STRANGE TALES ANNUAL #2
When a master thief known as the Fox steals a Da Vinci painting and frames Spider Man for the crime, the webslinger decides to contact the Human Torch for help in clearing his name.
But Johnny has been annoyed with all the publicity that Spider Man’s been getting and is quick to assume his guilt. The two have briefly met before in FF #1 (and Peter had a brief out-of-costume encounter with Johnny in Spider Man #3), but this is their first real get-together—and of course it quickly evolves into fight. It’s a good fight, though, with typically strong action choreography provided by artist Jack Kirby.
Eventually Johnny gets it through his head that Spidey might be innocent. The two do indeed team-up, using Peter’s spider-sense to track down the Fox’s numerous secret lairs before finally catching the thief and recovering the stolen painting.
It’s a fun issue that sparks off a nifty Marvel Universe tradition. Spidey and the Torch continue to get on each other’s nerves even after they team up, providing us with some funny banter. It’s the beginning of a mildly adversarial friendship that will be the springboard for many entertaining stories in the years to come. A minor corollary to this is that they meet atop the Statue of Liberty after they decide to join forces—this would become their usual meeting place whenever one of them needed to contact the other.
Within this particular story, both characters use their brains as well as their powers to track down the Fox. This is particularly true of Spider Man, who early in the story has to come up with a fireproof version of his webbing to use against the Torch. There’s also a nice touch when a police detective tells the Torch to hold off on the flashy super hero stuff, then finds a clue by methodically going through the police files.
There is perhaps one small weak point in the plot in that the method used to frame Spider Man seems a bit of a stretch (“Looks like part of a giant spider web! Hey! That’s it! It musta been Spider Man.”). But the rest of the story is pretty darn cool.
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1
Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, finally finds the rest of the Atlantians and is ruling over them once more. With access to an army and advanced Atlantian technology, he decides to bring his grievances with the surface world to a head. Before too many pages go by, an army of Atlantians have occupied New York City. Namor now effectively holds seven million people hostage.
But Read counters the invasion by whipping up an “evaporation ray,” forcing the water-breathing Atlantian soldiers to retreat into the ocean when the water in their helmets dissipates. This, in turn, forces Namor to attack the FF. After a brief tussle, he manages to take Sue hostage.
The remaining three heroes mount a rescue operation. In the ensuing chaos, Sue is nearly drowned and Namor must give up the fight to rush her back to a New York hospital. Ths ends the fighting, but when he returns home again, he finds his people have abandoned their undersea city and rejected him as their ruler. They’re upset, you see, that he placed the life of a surface dweller over the interests of his kingdom.
Poor Sue gets a bit of a demotion in this story—after getting a number of awesome moments in recent issues, she’s playing “helpless hostage” once again. But this particular story pretty much demands this, so it’s easy to forgive.
Otherwise, it’s all great stuff. We meet a couple of Atlantians who will play important roles in Namor’s future life—the love-struck Lady Dorma and the duplicitous Warlord Krang. We get an effective retelling of Namor’s origin, reminding us his father was a human and explaining why he can breathe out of the water. There’s great characterization stuff all through the story; indications that Ben continues to set his bitterness aside and think of Reed as his best friend once more; reminders that Namor is not a ruthless conqueror, but rather a ruler doing what he feels is best to protect his people; and some fun banter between Ben and Johnny. Jack Kirby yet again provides great action sequences, while his designs of Atlantian war vehicles and the various strange sea monsters controlled by Namor are pure joy to just look at.
Namor won’t remain separated from his people for long, though. He’ll soon make peace with his subjects, but not with the surface world. Before too much time goes by, we’ll see him and his troops tussling with various Marvel superheroes once again.
This issue also gives us a re-telling of Spider Man’s encounter with the FF from Spider Man #1, in which the webslinger tries to join the group. Drawn by Kirby rather than Steve Ditko and expanded to show us a longer FF vs. Spidey fight, it obviously exists to plug Spider Man’s relatively new book. But it’s a good story with great art, so Kirby and Stan Lee are welcome to plug away all they want.
We, in the meantime, will be moving on next week to October 1963 (thus completing the second full year of stories from the modern Marvel universe). The Fantastic Four will be doing some more time traveling; Spider Man will encounter one of the FF’s villains; while Thor, Iron Man, Ant Man & the Wasp and the Human Torch will each encounter a brand new villain.