Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review of Tales of Suspense # 43: The Netherworld of Stark and Silver Age Sexism

What we are reading: Iron Man Vs Kala, Queen of the Netherworld- Tales of Suspense#43
The Spandex Iron Man

When reading through the Silver Age establishment of the Marvel universe you get to see both the very illuminating stories that set up beloved characters and the utterly atrocious, politically backward hogwash, which permeated the comics and the zeitgeist of the period. This Iron Man story is the latter. 

Before jumping into the negatives of this story let’s examine the one positive: the Atlanteans make their first appearance in this one. They are, in later arcs, subterranean threats that are in many ways apocalyptic. Here, though, their motives are flat and really not examined thoroughly. They want to take over Earth because they are angry that a geological event sank their empire. Let’s get revenge on humanity which runs volcanos or something. I don’t know. Even the one positive makes little sense. That being said, this story is a mess. Not only because it espouses backwards Sixties morals but because arc-wise, it has none.

The story begins at Stark Industries in the middle of a wind tunnel test. The tunnel stops working and turns the station into a veritable hurricane. Stark calls down and explains luckily by happenstance Iron Man is visiting the factory so he can save the windblown scientists. It is flimsy excuses like this that no doubt caused Anthony and Stan to strip the facade later.  It’s an excessively obvious and convenient piece of writing; so unintelligent a moment that it doesn’t even pass as charming camp.

After this minor incident of blowhardism at the wind tunnel, Tony climbs into his spandex iron suit and gets sucked into the center of the Earth. Sidebar: The Iron suit in this one is actually depicted as a spandex body suit. It’s stupidity like this that shows you Jack “I don’t care for plausibility” Kirby is back at the artistic helm. When Tony arrives in the in the centre of the Earth he and his spandex iron suit are embroiled in a hastily thought out thousand year old plan to take over the surface. We soon find out that Supreme General Blaxu resents taking orders from the female ruler Kala. Tony concurs  and he flies her off to the surface where she sees her complexion age in seconds. Iron Man tells her that if she wants her beauty she should stay underground. She does for “what is a women without her beauty.” 

This story is disgusting. A female leader that cares so much for her looks that she abandons her long held goal and just to nail another has to be one grossest example of female stereotype. Just to nail another peg into the chauvinist coffin Tony tells Blaxu to marry Kala so that she has proper guidance.

 ‘Women can’t lead, young Marvelites. They need a man.’ 

No wonder Sue Storm can’t get a shred of decent dialogue.

I know chauvinism has always been a part of Tony Stark, as he is a millionaire playboy with the face of Errol Flynn after all, but in later stories he is usually offset with a strong female to take him to task. It also may be unfair of me to judge a story written in a vastly different time by the ethics of today, but the sad thing is, that even under all the sexism this story is poorly constructed and frankly worthless. Nothing feels connected and no character really sticks out a vital or interesting. It feels like hastily written filler. 

At least Jack Kirby has started to draw backgrounds. That’s a plus.  

0 out of 5. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Review of Strange Tales #111: A Confusingly Strange Tale With Far Reaching Impact on the Marvel Universe.

Story I Read: Doctor Strange: Master of Black Magic "Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo" (Strange Tales #111 Aug 1963)

It is no wonder to me that when Dr. Strange debuted in 1963, as a companion piece to the solo escapades of The Human Torch in Strange Tales, Marvel fans thought Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were on drugs. Dr. Strange’s early stories are surely strange tales. So strange that they are almost incomprehensible. This being only the second story to feature the North American necromancer Strange certainly follows suit. 

A discussion of the mythology of this world is hard to launch into because the rules of the world are still heavily in flux. Let’s give it the old college try shall we? The conflict seems to involve Baron Mordo poisoning the Master to gain information about the dark arts but Strange stops him through some dream trickery and some fancy conspiracy with an amulet. All this takes place in 5 pages. Perhaps this brevity is why the story feels impotent and is almost indecipherable. 

Though, I admit, I am not entirely sure what occurred here or even why it occurred, what I am sure of is in this comic there are two major firsts. One is the creation of Baron Mordo and the other is a major change in narrative tactics for comics. 

Mordo is special because not only is this Strange’s supreme nemesis, the yin to his yang for the next 50 years, but it also amazing that this is only the second tale and a major nemesis is introduced. In the contemporary Marvel heroes of the time it often took many issues before their major nemeses were introduced. This must be because the creatives had a future plan intoned for the Doctor. Little is offered up front in origin because it will be expanded upon in a future story. The ‘Slow Burn’ as it is proverbially known. Could this be the first Marvel hero that has a future planned at its conception and wasn’t developed on the fly? We all know how on the  fly writing may have killed the first incarnation of the Hulk. 

The little paneling devoted to Mordo's back story. 
The second rather astounding stride fourth is the fact this is the first villain whose tactic is death. No bones about it. He holds death, not only defeat, over The Master. Astounding. Reality is, however small, beginning to seep into the Marvel world. If only the motives and action of the story could be understood this would be a fantastic yarn. As I slog my way through the universe and truly get to know Strange I should reevaluate this story. It just feels that I am missing some part of the narrative. 

Out of 5 this is a 1. The reason I give it a 1 is because I am unclear what went on in the story. Though at face value it made sense, after further thought it ultimately left me confused. I do give the story appreciation because of the firsts in both Mordo’s introduction and the boldness of the changing evolution in what constitutes a character story in the Marvel Universe.

P.S. Ditko’s inking is detailed but largely uninteresting because the depiction of dream characters is so white and bland. 


A Review of The Human Torch’s Story in Strange Tales #111- “Fighting To The Death With Asbestos Man.”

When looking at the solo adventures of The Human Torch in Strange Tales I am always struck by the haste in their construction. It is obvious in the early days of the establishment of the Marvel Universe Stan Lee wanted to capitalize on the possibilities of having a teenage hero and cranked out countless unfocused stories. The speed in the development is obvious in the disregard in canon. It would be ideal way look at Torch as a rough draft for Spider-Man but it cannot really be done. In the early period there was triple the development on Storm, who had both the Fantastic Four issues and the solo adventures, and there was little examples for Pete who only had his own solo adventures.

Accepting that Torch doesn’t work on his own, as evidenced by the more and more prevalent cameos of the other 3 Fantastic members in the solo stories, let’s dive into the story at hand offered in Strange Tales # 111. 

Today's Story. 
The first thing that strikes me about this story is the brilliance of the villain. Up until around this point, in the Silver Age comics, little focus had been given to the villain’s motives. Often they had been reduced to a simple melodramatic thought process of:  “let’s kill the hero because he is good and I am not.” Orson Kasloff, on the other hand, is one of the first truly human villains. A good third of the story is devoted to the sad thoughts of a scientist who feels disrespected by his employer and this makes his need to destroy Torch that more believable. When he attempts to rob said employer it predictably blows up in his face as he does not expect the alarm to go off. I will admit I chuckled at this. 

Long story short Kasloff becomes Asbestos Man and all the time spent on establishing Kasloff; the man, goes up in flames in the nauseating arrogance of Torch’s snap vendetta. When the villain challenges the flaming teenager Johnny haphazardly flies to battle and is easily defeated. Again, Torch’s powers are wildly pliable, suddenly he’s too weak to combat a man in an asbestos suit when in an earlier publication he burnt so hot that he melted through an asbestos lined wall. Perhaps this is Stan Lee’s way of equalizing the earlier wild creativity of the Marvel heroes.

This disregard or fluidity in character development is also present in Sue Storm who makes yet again another aimless cameo. This time playing John’s spirit guide. Sue is looking more and more matronly in every issue. Perhaps Stan is wishing he actually made her into Johnny’s mother rather then sister. The wild sexism and disrespectful way the creatives treat Sue is better suited to full other article but I just need to mention banality of her in this issue. 

One of the greatest aspects of this story is it’s art. Inked by Dick Ayers this story is beautiful. No longer are there the empty blue backgrounds of the Jack Kirby drawn  comics thus far. Background detail is present. The contouring on Kasloff’s face or the fire veins (for what else do we call those dark lines on Torch) are fluid and ably move when Torch does. The New York presented here is gritty and even evokes the detail neo-Noireish renderings of Gotham in DC’s Batman. Marvel is truly coming into its own over the DC behemoth.

When looking at this story as whole it is easily a 3 out of 5 story mainly for the time spent on the detail of a new villain and the environment he exists in. The negatives exist in the rather shoddy writing that peaks its head on many occasions. Ably obvious in this rather cheap redundant piece of dialogue spouted by Kasloff early on ““What is all the excitement about? Why is everyone so excited??” 

Changes are afoot but there are still many obstacles. 

P.S. Think of all the cancer Kasloff will suffer because of his alter-ego. 
Kasloff, the man who will most likely die of cancer. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Review of Journey Into Mystery #94

"This is a review of The Mighty Thor's Story-  Journey Into Mystery #94 that I wrote for The Marvel Comic Wiki." 

Once again that old trickster brother:Loki attempts to beguile Thor. Interestingly Loki’s plot                           at hand is not one that attempts to unseat him as the proper heir to Asgard but to gain Thor as an ally to Loki’s plans. 

Journey Into Mystery #94 (July 1963)
Though the science behind Thor’s loss of memory and personality change is quite hilarious it begs to the question the true two dimensionality of the Early Silver Aged heroes. Thor’s character, unlike his Silver Age counter parts the Fantastic Four and Anthony Stark, still remains basic in that he is a god who wishes to protect humanity. Essentially he is the Jesus figure that DC had reveled upon for so long with Superman.  There is nothing to him other then valor and responsibility. Loki is again the vice figure who wants chaos and revenge. Evil for the sake of evil and in this story he does his job admirably. He is actually quite wry in his sense of humour about the whole thing. An aspect of his developing personality that comes to the forefront in later characterizations.  This story begins to shine light on the shear power of the Asgardians and that they are a frightening possible threat to Earth. If death was allowed in this comic writing period bloody humans would litter the landscape. Alas, only tomfoolery occurs. 

Even though the story is quite simple and light this story does alot to set up Loki as something more then the ultimate foil to Thor. There is desperation and dare I say loneliness here. Loki needs a partner in crime. It could be read that Loki is attempting to besmirch Thor and ruin his golden boy image but I prefer to read it as a need to be vindicated by his own kind. Thor vindicates him in his confused amnesiac way as  being rightfully an equal. Something he has not done until this story. This is bittersweet in its own way. 

As for Dr.Don Blake and the alter-ego blah blah blah I can see that Stan Lee may be getting tired of that. This has to be least page time Thor’s alter-ego gets and Jane does not even appear. Perhaps he see’s his error in following the Superman model and perhaps there is more to this character?

The inking is really quite entertaining and sleek in this one. The images of the landmarks being blasted into the sky and the museum Dinosaurs being animated are classic Silver Age melodramatic images.  

All these positives aside, it is a shame that Odin wipes the action from the consciousness of Earth. If this were a later publication, something would be made of the disregard and threatening power of the Asgardians versus Midgardians. 

Overall, out of 5 stars, Journy Into Mystery #94: Thor and Loki attack the human race”  is a 3. It has a great sense of humour and begins to expand upon the relationship of Loki and Thor but the ending is simple and ultmitately empty.