Comics : Marvel Tales #13

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning

This review was first published on: 1 Feb 2018.

Background...

At some point, in the midst of Marvel’s surging popularity, it occurred to Stan or Martin Goodman or someone that they could take advantage of this to sell the old stories again. Not just the early Marvel Age series as featured in Marvel Tales and Marvel’s Collectors’ Item Classics but the Timely stories from the 40s, the Atlas stories from the 50s, and the monster stories from the late 50s and early 60s. So 1966 brings us Fantasy Masterpieces with its Golden Age Captain America tales and shorts from Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Journey Into Mystery,Amazing Adult Fantasy and so on and Marvel Super-Heroes #1 (1966), which reprints the Human Torch/Sub-Mariner battle from Marvel Mystery Comics #8, June 1940 along with Daredevil, Cap, and the Avengers. After reprinting that story, Stan and company introduce Torch and Subby into FM with issue #7 (February 1967). By the end of its run, FM is reprinting the 50s Black Knight stories as well. When FM becomes Marvel Super-Heroes with #12, it supplements its new cover stories with these same sorts of reprints. (Featuring the Destroyer, the Golden Age Vision, Mercury, Black Marvel, the Patriot, and Miss America. We’ll see this when we do a complete review of Marvel Super-Heroes #14 not too long from now.) So, why not add the obscure Marvel Boy 1950s series to Marvel Tales even though it only lasted 2 issues before becoming Astonishing, which then kicked Marvel Boy out of the book with issue #7? After all, the Wasp stories have reached their end and something needs to take their place (although Marvel Boy replaces the Torch in this issue). The problem is that the Atlas super-hero stories are by no means the Marvel Age super-hero stories, as we shall see.

In Detail...

Marvel Tales #13
Mar 1968 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #18
Reprints: Marvel Boy #1 (Story 1)
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #59
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #99
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Review

The cover is a sort-of reprint of the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #18, November 1964. The left side, with Spidey cowering in an alley, is the same but the right side is different. In the original, the Sandman is standing on the hood of a car while bystanders flee around him. On this cover, as you can see, the bystanders and the car are gone. Sandman is much closer to Spidey and has been redrawn a bit.

The image is condensed to fit in a very long blurb at the bottom that introduces “one of our grooviest heroes from the frantic 50s…Marvel Boy…one of our first far-out super-dupers.” The blurb continues, “Many of today’s howlin’ heroes were influenced by his agonizin’ adventures! He’s a blast!” Well, we’ll see.

As usual, there’s a greytone frontispiece on the inside front cover. (“More Majestic Masterpieces of Magnanimous Marvel Memorabilia!”) The credits list Stan Lee as “Our Man From Edit,” Sol Brodsky as “Our Man From Production” and so on; showing the mid-60s influence of the Spy genre. The phrase probably begins with Graham Greene’s 1950s novel “Our Man in Havana” and branches out in the 60s to television with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., film with Our Man Flint and even TV commercials with The Man From Glad. The Spider-Man greytone reprints page 12 panel 1 of the story. Going counterclockwise, the Giant-Man image is from page 2 panel 10 of that piece and the Marvel Boy image is from his page 9 panel 2. But the Thor greytone is a combined image of Thor and Mr. Hyde. Thor himself comes from page 6 panel 6 in which he is menacing, not Mr. Hyde, but Odin. Hyde comes from page 7 panel 7 in which Hyde breaks through the door of Dr. Blake’s office. This image is reversed so that Hyde faces left…and Thor. Why bother concocting this image? Because there is no moment in this story in which Thor faces Mr. Hyde…as we will soon see.

Our first story is The End of Spider-Man from ASM #18. In my review for that issue, I said “Is it even possible to say anything bad about this issue? Everything in it... from Spidey's visit to the trading card company to Betty's romantic traumas that lead her to a date with Ned Leeds to Spidey's attempt at selling his web formula as glue to the flight from the Sandman to the Human Torch waiting fruitlessly on the top of the Statue of Liberty to Flash Thompson's hopeless battle with three car thieves to Pete throwing his Spidey suit in the trash to Aunt May's lecture about spunk... seems as fresh today as it did forty years ago.” Now, it’s over fifty years ago and it’s still as fresh as ever. This story still gets five webs.

If you didn’t get the idea from the cover blurb that Stan is uncertain as to the reaction to Marvel Boy, here is the intro created just for this issue: “The other day, your Bullpen’s relentless researchers (both of ‘em) ran across the first issue of a swingin’ superhero from the fabulous fifties – and we kinda thought you might get as big a boot out of his awesome origin as we did! So, just for kicks, madcap Marvel merrily present – the coming of --- Marvel Boy and the Lost World, reprinted from Marvel Boy #1, December 1950. So, in case you hate the story, remember, we just happened to run across the issue and it’s being reprinted “just for kicks.”

“A terrible and sudden storm” arises in the South Atlantic at 50 S Latitude and 5 E (or W) Longitude. (The story only says “longitude 5 latitude 50,” but latitude 50 N longitude 5 is either in Belgium or just off the coast of England.) It wipes out ships and airplanes. Soon, a continent rises up out of the ocean, causing tidal waves and earthquakes the world over. Different countries race to the new land in hopes of claiming it but they are already too later because Count Varron “King of Crime, Lord of Rogues, and now suddenly Man Without a Country” is there first. His ship was raised out of the sea by the continent. He lays claim to the land.

The sudden rise of a new continent has come to the attention of Professor Matthew Grayson even though he is on the planet Uranus. He calls his son Bob in to his lab. Bob wears a Uranian headband and some really tight swim trunks. Since he has lived on Uranus (no jokes now!) for 17 years, Bob has an I.Q. that is “astoundingly beyond anything any Earth-mortal can hope to achieve.” He also has “the Uranian’s gift for mental telepathy.”

Matthew tells Bob his story. In 1934, the Nazis accidentally shot down a passenger plane on which Matthew’s wife and daughter were passengers, leaving him with his infant son and no desire to stay on Earth. He uses his knowledge of atomic energy to create a rocket ship that will fly him and his son to the moon. Where they would slowly starve and suffocate, I presume. But as the ship nears the moon, it is seized by a magnetic force that takes it to Uranus. (“I never suspected that the uranium which powered my flight would attract the immense concentrates of uranium that form the crust of the planet Uranus!” I mean, Uranus must have uranium, right? They both start with “uran.”) Now, it doesn’t take Matthew the nine and a half years that it took Voyager 2 to get to Uranus. When he arrives, Bob is still an infant so he must have gotten there really fast. Matthew leaves his spaceship and finds that there are people on Uranus. (I said, no jokes!) There is also a breathable atmosphere and a habitable temperature. “After the nightmare of life on Earth…Everything on Uranus was peaceful and beautiful. The people were kind and noble. Their minds were brilliant.” Matthew was happy to spend the rest of his life there. But now, the events on Earth trouble him so much that he decides to send Bob there to help. He tells Bob, “You will be able to run faster and fight a little harder than mortal man…but that’s all.” There’s also a little matter of Earth’s atmosphere that “will leave you weaker than any mortal man! To prevent the loss of your powers, you must take one of these pills every 24 hours! Without these pills you may even die!” Then Matthew gives Bob a “large jewel” that “will fire a beam of light that will temporarily blind your enemy.” Finally, he gives him a uniform that retains the headband and the tight swim trunks. Run a little faster, fight a little harder, a jewel that emits a blinding light. That’s it? Plus he could die if he doesn’t take his pills. Doesn’t sound like a very good plan to me. But Bob is ready to go!

Then, Matthew gives his son a flying saucer that will take him “across the interplanetary void in a matter of hours.” How can it do this? “It’s powered by a specially developed hydrogen-uranium compound that’s inexhaustible!” I guess uranium is the answer to everything. Matthew instructs his son that he must keep the new continent “out of the hands of greedy men” and then sends him on his way.

Back on Earth, Count Varron sends a radio message out claiming the new continent for himself. He names it “Varronland” and says that no nation can claim it through him because he has no citizenship. (“Bosnia, the land of my birth has not existed for over 30 years!”)

Varron goes off to explore and Bob lands his saucer soon after. Varron’s crew try to kill him but Bob blinds them with his jewel (“You’re only temporarily shocked by atomic radiance!”) and beats them up (“Maybe you are from another planet! I never saw any guy on Earth fight like that!”) Bob takes off in his saucer to fight Varron but instead encounters blue-skinned scaly men wearing transparent helmets. Bob’s telepathic powers allow him to converse with the men. I am not about to reproduce their long-winded explanation. Let’s just say they are the continent’s inhabitants and leave it at that.

While Bob talks to the blue-skinned men, Varron and his men arrive. “Who the devil are those gooks he’s talking to?” asks Varron. (He really does!) “It’s some kind of fish people!” Realizing that these are the inhabitants of the land, Varron figures he must kill them all to keep his claim. He and his men start shooting, gunning the blue-skinned people down. The fish people retreat to the caves from which they emerged but Bob attacks Varron and his crew with his jewel and his strength. Varron takes a fish-woman as hostage and orders Bob to “Let my men alone.” Bob agrees if they return to their ship and leave the fish people in peace. Varron lets the woman go and agrees but he plans to get dynamite from his ship and seal the caves from which the people came.

Bob joins the fish people in their cavern but they fend him off with tridents, no longer trusting him. One of the men, Protus, calls Bob “Marvel Boy” even though no one has called him that except his father. (When Bob left Uranus, Matthew said, “he is a born helper of humanity…a Marvel Boy.”) “We were happy when we lived under the sea!” says Protus, “So we will seal off these caverns and return to the deeper levels.”

Marvel Boy flies off in his saucer to warn the arriving nations to leave the new continent. Varron brings his dynamite to the caverns but, before he can act, the continent sinks into the sea once again. Varron and his men drown, apparently, but first Varron goes mad, yelling out, “It’s my continent! All mine! It’s Varronland! Ha! Ha! Varronland!” Marvel Boy looks on and declares, “My battle against evil has just begun!”

Okay, I gave Stan a grilling for pumping this story way up but, actually, it is a pretty fun read. Marvel Boy’s origin and powers are ridiculous, of course. (Fortunately, for instance, it appears, that anyone subjected to Marvel Boy’s jewel light conveniently drops his gun.) The story is a bit over the top with the rising and falling continent and the fish people. But it is the 50s, after all, where all sorts of crazy things happen in comics with no regard for physics or continuity. If you are determined to inject continuity, though, the fish people can easily be explained as a lost offshoot of Prince Namor’s Atlanteans. The artist, Russ Heath, is a solid professional who did many Atlas stories in his distinctive style before becoming a mainstay of DC war comics. As of this writing, he is still alive at age 91. His work here is detailed and active. All of which brings me to a rating of 4 webs.

By the way, Marvel Boy taps out after four issues of Marvel Tales. He returns in Marvel Super-Heroes #19 only to disappear again. After that, none of the other 50s stories are reprinted until Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes #1 in 2007. When he next appears in regular continuity, he has become the crazed Crusader in FF #164, November 1975 who destroys himself with his quantum bands in FF #165, December 1975. (When does the jewel become quantum bands? Let me know, somebody!) Wendell Vaughn then takes over the quantum bands to become the hero Quasar. The Crusader is eventually retconned to be an unstable duplicate of Marvel Boy, allowing the character to return as a hero and appear in Agents of Atlas.

Let’s Learn About Hank and Jan… is from Tales to Astonish #59, September 1964. It is the last gasp of the Wasp’s strip before the Hulk moves in to share the book with Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish #60, October 1964. (Giant-Man loses his slot to the Sub-Mariner starting in Tales to Astonish #70, August 1965.) Stan writes it with pencils by Dick Ayers and inks by Paul Reinman. Stan adds an intro to the reprint, writing “Face Front, True Believers! Because of all the interest lately in ol’ High-Pockets – not to mention the fact that we’ve run out of ‘Tales of the Wasp!’ – we’re re-presenting this feature to bring you up-to-date on Marveldom’s favorite Man-Mountain!” I’m not sure what “interest lately” he is talking about. I don’t think anything all that interesting was going on with Hank in the Avengers around this time. I think the key statement in all of this is “we’ve run out of ‘Tales of the Wasp!’.”

Although Jan is mentioned in the title, this five-pager is mostly about Hank. It details his powers and equipment. I didn’t know that Hank could use the “cybernetic force waves” in his helmet to “instantly alter the size of his gorgeous partner-in-peril…the Wasp!” Was that ever used in a story? I also didn’t know that Hank “can easily press upwards of 2,000 pounds” and is “capable of splitting the strongest telephone pole in two” with a karate chop, even though he can only double his height up to 12 feet. And who knew that Hank is so rich from his patents that he has a “duplex penthouse” in lower Manhattan with all sorts of flashy stuff? Mostly, though, this is an unnecessary page filler and I’m giving it one web.

Next is The Mighty Thor Battles…the Mysterious Mister Hyde! from Journey Into Mystery #99, December 1963. Last issue, you’ll recall, introduced the Cobra. Soon, he and Hyde will team up and stay together for quite a long time. That Cobra story and this Hyde story are the start of the bridge from the silly Thor stories to the classic Lee-Kirby run that really gets going at around JIM #116, May 1965. The one thing these two stories and the next are missing is Jack Kirby artwork. These three stories were penciled and inked by Don Heck. There are many who dislike Don’s sketchy style. I enjoy it myself but it is an acquired taste.

A crowd watches as the Mighty Thor swings his hammer and flies away. Everyone is awed except Mr. Hyde, who is amongst the crowd. He is happy to see Thor go. Now “there is no one strong enough to frustrate my plans.” Thor arrives at Asgard to again plead with Odin to allow him to marry Jane Foster but Odin turns him down flat. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde heads for Dr. Don Blake’s office. “The time has come for Dr. Don Blake to repay an old debt to Mr. Hyde! And I shall see that I am paid in full!”

Hyde thinks back to his origin. He was Calvin Zabo who tried to get a job with Dr. Blake “and then rob him later, at my leisure.” But Don is wise to Zabo and orders him out. “I hated him!” says Hyde, “He had everything! Wealth, fame, a beautiful nurse! I knew I had to find a way to harm him.” Always believing there was truth behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Zabo creates a potion that brings out his bestial side. It also makes him a dozen times stronger than he was and it changes his fingerprints so that Hyde’s crimes would never be attributed to Calvin Zabo. Now arriving at Blake’s office, he breaks down the door.

In the meantime, Thor has entered Don’s office through the window and struck his hammer on the floor to turn back into Dr. Blake. He drops his cane just as Mr. Hyde smashes in. Don lunges for his cane and Hyde thinks he is grabbing a weapon so he pushes him out the window. “And, then, because she is a female…” Jane Foster faints. (Yes, Stan used to write that way in 1963.) Hyde rips open Don’s wall safe and takes his money, papers, and “results of his lifetime of research and study.” (We’re in a very confused time here for Thor and Don Blake. Originally, in Journey into Mystery #83, August 1962, it was assumed that Don was a mortal who had gained the power of Thor but, before too long, Thor goes to Asgard and it all gets very murky. So, has Don been around long enough to have a “lifetime of research and study?” Sure. Why not?)

Outside, Don Blake is falling to his death. He manages to pound his cane (which he snagged before Hyde got him) on the side of the building and turns back into Thor. When Hyde first breaks into the office, Don says, “I don’t know who you are, fella.” But now, Thor says, “And now, Mister Hyde, we shall face each other again on my terms.” Did Don hear Hyde say, “It is only fitting that Mr. Hyde should gain by Blake’s death,” even as he was falling story after story? It’s the only explanation.

Thor returns to the office to find Jane coming to. “Hyde is gone!” says Thor but then asks Jane, “Who was he?” and Jane answers, “He called himself Mr. Hyde.” Clearly this business of “who knows ‘Hyde’ when” is getting completely tangled up. Thor assures Jane that he rescued Don Blake then flies out the window to look for Hyde.

At his hideout, Hyde hears about Don Blake’s rescue on the radio. He decides he must destroy Thor before he does anything else. Later, Thor breaks into a bank and robs it. Expecting “aid from the federal authorities,” the police mobilize and search for Thor, intending to take him in.

That is part one of the story and what a fun, rousing part one it is. Thor and Mr. Hyde never meet but it doesn’t matter. You have Thor’s run-in with Odin, Hyde’s origin, Don Blake thrown out a window, Don Blake rescuing himself by thumping his cane on the building’s side, and Thor robbing a bank. Yes, you also have a silly reason for Hyde to try to kill Don Blake, sexism in the form of a fainting Jane Foster, and Don Heck rather than Jack Kirby artwork but it’s still worth four webs. “Don’t dare miss our next incredible, indescribable ish!” You can bet I won’t, Stan!

In General...

A classic Lee/Ditko Spidey, a surprisingly fun Marvel Boy origin, an unnecessary Giant-Man/Wasp five-pager and the first ever “Continued” Thor story introducing Mr. Hyde.

Overall Rating...

That rounds up to four webs.

Footnote...

It’s Spidey! It’s the Brainwasher! It’s MJ shaking her go-go booties on the cover! It’s ASM #59 next!