And now, From the Beginning ventures across the waters to foreign shores. This will not happen often. While, I am obsessed enough to cover US Spidey reprints, I am drawing the line at including Pow!, Creepy Worlds (UK), Sinister Tales (UK) or any other UK reprints from around this time. But Marvel Story Book Annual is not a reprint book, although it does appear to be a UK book. It is a collection of illustrated text stories and it may just contain the first original non-US Spidey story written. If anyone knows of any earlier story, please let me know!
So, what is Marvel Story Book Annual? I must admit I know little about it. It resembles the hardcover UK Marvel Super Heroes Annuals, and we have grouped it with them, but it predates Marvel UK and is unlike them in every way except format. The copyright page tells us that it is “Published in Great Britain by World Distributors (Manchester) Limited” but it is “by arrangement with Western Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin, USA,” NOT Marvel Comics Group. As such, it has a very Western feel to it. Do you remember Western? The beneficiary of the splitting of 1950s powerhouse Dell Comics, creator of the Gold Key imprint, and holder of licenses for Disney characters, popular TV shows, and many other profitable franchises, Western offered mostly cheap-looking comics with anonymous writers, sketchy artwork, and garish painted covers. The Story Book Annual is much the same. Take a look at the list of writers and artists below. Any of them familiar? I didn’t think so. Look at the cover below, too. In the list of heroes, Spidey and Subby are listed without their hyphens (Ant Man, too), displaying unfamiliarity with the characters. The painted figures all seem to be tracings of previously published illustrations. For example, the Captain America head next to the logo is part of a full figure from the back cover of this book. That figure is a painted version of Cap from the cover of Tales of Suspense #74, February 1966. I suspect, if you go looking, you can find the other figures in previous Marvel comics too.
The frontispiece also appears to be composed of traced figures. The Hulk figure is from the cover of Tales to Astonish #67, May 1965, the Dr. Strange figure seems to come from the splash page of Strange Tales #110, July 1963. These figures seem hurriedly traced with not much concern for facial features. Thor and the FF in particular look very sketchy.
Spidey is on the cover and the frontispiece but he doesn’t stand out. He dominates the title page, however, shooting a spray of webbing that fills most of the page. But who is the guy right below him? Was he traced from the wrong comic company? Ah well, at least Spidey, Subby, and Ant-Man get their hyphens again.
Okay, so we’ve established that the artwork is crap. How are the stories?
Our first story is Fightin’ Fury starring Ant-Man, who hides in a hat as he thinks back to the start of his career, five years ago. Back then, he happened to be hanging out on a bridge when he witnessed Danny Fury, a boxer known as “Fightin’ Fury,” escape from the police and steal a “lorry.” As the lorry drives under the bridge, Ant-Man jumps on. Danny hides out in an old farmhouse that just happens to have milk so that Danny can have his nightly glass. Ant-Man just happens to have “sleeping tablets” with him. In the great super-hero tradition, he puts them in the milk, then calls the police so that can apprehend the sleeping Danny.
Now, five years later, he is hiding in Danny’s hat as Danny gets out of prison. He wants to keep an eye on him. The first place Danny goes to is a snack bar run by a man named Matty, who, it turns out, was the one that actually committed the crime for which Danny was sent to prison. Danny’s escape from the police convinced everyone, including a jury, that he was guilty. Matty tries to get Danny to join him on a caper to steal transistor radios from Smithy’s warehouse but Danny turns him down. Instead, he goes to the warehouse and asks Smith for a job. Smith agrees until he learns who Danny is. Suddenly, he has no job for the ex-con Fightin’ Fury. Danny soon finds that no one has a job for him so he falls in with Matty and a guy named Jake.
Ant-Man has nothing else to do so he’s been hanging with Danny for a week. He is in the room when Danny shows slides and outlines a plan to rob Smith. To thwart this, Ant-Man climbs up on the slide projector’s lens, projecting his shadow on the wall. Matty can’t handle this image because he is terrified of ants. (Never mind that Ant-Man looks like a man and not an ant.) Danny decides the caper is off because Ant-Man is on to them. Jake suggests that they use some insect killer on Ant-Man but Danny kicks him and Matty out instead. Ant-Man “shuddered when he thought of the two bottles of insect killer. If this room was fumigated, he knew he wouldn’t stand a chance.” So, Ant-Man thinks he is an ant, too, apparently.
Two days later, the police show up at Danny’s door. Smith’s warehouse has been robbed and Smith knows that Danny was snooping around and took pictures. Ant-Man is convinced that Matty and Jake pulled the job so he goes to Matty’s place, finds him in bed, uses his ants to truss Matty up in “reels of cotton” and wakes him. He then tells him to confess to the robbery and to the crime for which Danny was imprisoned five years ago, adding, “if you don’t confess, you’ll have to be prepared to have a million ants as company for the rest of your days. You’d find ants in your sugar, ants in your clothes, ants in your bed. No one will want to know you. Your ill-gotten money will be thrown out of the window. Your shoe laces will disappear, and so will the buttons on your coat. Crockery will mysteriously fall on the floor, pictures drop from the wall. Whenever you sleep, your face and hands will be covered by ants…” Matty confesses.
So, Danny is released. Smith offers him a job but Danny turns him down. He is “going round to the recruiting office to join the Royal Marines.” Smith is disappointed. “I think you would be the best security man in the country,” he tells Danny. “If you want the best crimebuster in the country, you’d better see Ant-Man,” says Danny. And Ant-Man is already off investigating a robbery at the Tate Art Gallery.
A few things of note. First, it’s pretty clear from this story that Ant-Man is British. If the tip-off wasn’t “There was a lorry parked in the road” or “Take that hundred quid as a token of appreciation” or that the loot is valued at 3000 pounds, it’s that Danny is going to join the Royal Marines and Ant-Man is off to visit the Tate in London. Second, it appears that Ant-Man is so much like his namesakes that he really could be killed by “a couple of bottles of insect killer.” Or as the narrator puts it, “If this room was fumigated , he knew he wouldn’t stand a chance.” Those are actually two of the things I like about the story. Otherwise, it’s pretty ho-hum. Ant-Man himself has no character development and no secret identity as far as I can tell. He just follows guys like Danny around until they stumble into some robbery. In other words, Ant-Man is completely a device. As for Danny and Matty and Jake, they have more characterization than Ant-Man. But not much.
Next up is Caught in the Web, a two page game starring Spider-Man and the Lizard. There are two Spidey illustrations, a Peter Parker illustration in which he looks like Puggsley from the Addams Family, and a Lizard illustration that is a version of Liz based on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #44, January 1967. The object of the game is to catch the Lizard but the board is just a bunch of circles and arrows (sounds like Alice’s Restaurant) and the instructions are so convoluted, I had to read them twice to get a sense of how you play the thing. I suddenly felt like I was in Star Trek playing fizzbin. Let’s not dawdle here. We have a long way to go.
Howl in the Night stars the Sub-Mariner. In it, Atlantis is protected by “air domes which protected their air-conditioned cities.” So, you know right off the bat that you’re dealing with a writer who is clueless. Now this turns out to be a story of Prince Namor when he is only sixteen years old and an “old emperor” rules Atlantis.
An earthquake hits and damages the air dome. “The air broke out like a giant bubble” and sharks come swimming in. Prince Namor, wielding a shield and hammer (sort of a Captain Ameri-Thor) fights back the sharks but part of a building falls on the old emperor and his leg is “broken at the knee.” Now, you would think that the emperor could still rule with a broken leg but no. He is taken to the hospital and sixteen year old Namor is temporarily put in his place. Realizing that Namor is more warlike than the emperor, the Grand Vizier and his cronies try to talk him into a plan to attack the surface world. They want to destroy all the lighthouses around the world to destroy the world’s navies. Namor considers this plan but decides he wants to destroy a lighthouse by himself before he agrees to it. (Why? So that the story can play out, of course.) So, one night, he swims to a lighthouse, avoids the old man and twelve year old boy staffing it, gets up to the top and rips the foghorn and light apart. He then dives from the top of the lighthouse into the sea, only to hit his head on the very debris he just threw down there.
He comes to in a rowboat with the old man and boy. They have rescued him and bandaged his wounds. Ashamed of what he has done to these kind people, he leaves the boat and swims away. He wonders how many sailors will die because of his sabotage. He realizes that “he was no brute and he would be responsible for no more deaths.” So, he finds a “large sea-shell” at the bottom of the ocean. He brings it up to the lighthouse and blows the shell, making a sound that warns a ship away from the rocks.
He returns to Atlantis and turns down the lighthouse attacks. “His people, like people everywhere, had to learn to share the world, and if they tried to destroy others, they would only destroy themselves. Besides, his 100,000 men could be better employed building up new air domes for their cities. As for the prince himself, he found the surface people interesting, and instead of destroying them, he felt he would like to know them better.”
As noted above, the writer here is not too clear on Sub-Mariner. He seems to have him mixed up with Aquaman or Lori Lemaris. It is mentioned here that Namor can control sharks and that his people live in air domes even though they can breathe water. The fact that they are called “Atlantians” rather than the correct “Atlanteans” pretty much says it all. And yet this is a nice little story with a good moral. The last paragraph, quoted in full in the previous paragraph, is well said. The story is lightweight and flawed but I can’t help but like it.
Fantastic Four’s Crossword is next. A one-page crossword puzzle designed for kids but with a couple of surprisingly tough clues. (Okay, maybe just one: “Goddess who changed people to swine.” Did you know that when you were a kid?) The number 36 is omitted from the grid, which may be confusing for some solvers. My favorite part of the puzzle, though, is 19 Across because it is connected to no other squares. It sits all by itself in a black patch and is two letters long. The clue is easy enough -“Justice of the Peace (abbr.) – but the kid who owned my book before me didn’t fill it in. Yes, my puzzle has been worked on and the solver got himself tangled up and quit halfway in. He also decided to give the Invisible Girl head an eyepatch, the Human Torch head a pair of shades and a Fu Manchu mustache, and the Mr. Fantastic head a gaping hole where his left eye should be and a Hitler mustache. Which I rather like.
The Chains of Abdul Rey, our next odd little tale, stars the Fantastic Four, who are vacationing in Rabat, Morocco. They come upon Abdul Rey, a slave trader, conducting his business. Now, Rabat used to have a slave trade but I doubt it was still going on in public in the 1960s. Sue Storm is appalled by it all but Johnny, Reed, and Ben shrug it off. When an 8-year-old boy named Mustaffa is put up for sale, Sue buys him for fifteen dollars. Then she tells the boy he is free but he has no place to go. “My father and brothers were killed when Abdul Rey, the slave trader, raided our tribe. My mother and sisters were sold into slavery in markets all over the desert…Where they are now, I know not.”
This angers Sue so much that, when she sees Abdul Rey throwing his weight around, she tugs on his whip, pulling him from his camel. Immediately, Abdul’s men put manacles on her. They do the same to Johnny, Reed, and Ben. (Must have had some pretty big cuffs for Ben.) Declaring them his slaves, Abdul Rey drags them away to his “walled desert fort.” The FF are all surprised to discover that they cannot use their powers to escape. When they get to the fort, Abdul Rey says, “I have found that white slaves do not make good slaves…They think they are as good as their masters, and they make every effort to escape and bring trouble. That is not good for business. Therefore, I have decided to cast you from these battlements so that you can cause no one any further trouble.” He gives them the choice to “leap bravely to your death, or be pushed like cowards.” Johnny volunteers to jump but says, “if I am to die like a man, you must remove these chains.” Abdul Rey agrees and Johnny jumps. After falling about 200 feet, Johnny discovers he can flame on. He flies back to the battlements, grabs Abdul Rey, takes him 3 miles into the air and drops him. He flies down and catches him, then carries him back to the battlements. Abdul Rey is a broken man. He bows to Johnny, who tells him, “You will not take part in any further slave raids, and you will spend the next year calling all slave owners and telling them to free their slaves or face the wrath of the fire god. I will return next year and if I find one slave in captivity, I will carry you to the moon where you will work continuously without sleep. Wherever you see a fireball or shooting star, you will know I will be watching you. Remember you can no more hide from me than you can hide from the sky.” “My will is your command, master,” says Abdul Rey, scurrying away.
Reed still can’t get free of the chains. He has a theory that “in some mysterious way, the iron in these chains affects the magnetism in our bodies so we are unable to use our powers…That’s why you could change into the Human Torch after you had your chains removed,” he tells Johnny, who confesses that he doesn’t know if this is true. “Then why on earth did you leap from the battlements,” asks Sue, “You might have been killed.” Johnny agrees. “But I didn’t have much choice, did I?” he says.
Tackling slavery in a comic text story is laudable but this really doesn’t do much to address the problem with any seriousness. The slave trade goes on in public like it is the 1800s. Somehow the slave traders manage to clap irons on all four of the FF without them putting up a fight. And the explanation of the iron chains affecting the magnetism in their bodies to nullify their powers is just ridiculous. And, by the way, everyone may now be free but Mustaffa still doesn’t have anyplace to go. This one is not worth the time it takes to read it.
Captain America’s Quest is a maze. “Help Captain America to find his way into the Nazi stronghold and rescue the gold and art treasures that the Nazis have stolen.” There is a treasure chest guarded by a Nazi soldier in the center of the maze with four possible entrances for Cap. Only one will lead him to the gold. My copy is already filled in by the kid who owned this copy before me so I didn’t have the chance to figure it out.
Men of Ideas is a one page tribute to six inventors. They are, in order, Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Faraday, John Logie Baird, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Galileo, and George Stephenson. I’ve only heard of three of these men (Leonardo, Faraday, Galileo) and I couldn’t tell you anything at all about Faraday. According to this page, he “was the original inventor of the dynamo principle upon which all generation of electric power was ultimately based.” As for the others? “Baird was the pioneer of television but his was not the system finally adopted.” Brunel’s “greatest of engineering achievements were undoubtedly the three massive ships which were way ahead of their time, including the Great Eastern which weighed 24,000 tons.” And, “Stephenson was the designer of the Rocket, the most famous railway locomotive in the world.” Could have fooled me. Are these all people that British kids learn of in school? I don’t think they ever came up in my education.
And now, at last, Spidey in The Origin of Spider-Man, which is much like the origin you know except for a few trivial changes and one massive difference. First the radiation demonstration is taking place in the “science hall of Midtown High School.” It is very hot and crowded in the hall and the lecturer decides to dismiss the students early. But bookworm Peter Parker sticks around and is bitten by the spider. The main difference is that the Burglar never crosses paths with Spider-Man at all. While Peter is performing as Spidey, the Burglar breaks into the Parker home and shoots and kills Uncle Ben. So, the guilt that Peter has is that he wasn’t home to stop it (“he felt he could have prevented all that happened if he had been on the spot instead of playacting”) but not that he was too high on himself to catch a fleeing Burglar. This dilutes the origin quite a bit and, since the punchline is now a bit of a dud, the story goes on to talk about how Spidey goes back to the stage to make money for Aunt May but is stymied by not being able to cash a check and by J. Jonah Jameson. It goes on to mention that Peter “takes picture of his exploits, later selling them, as Peter Parker, to the Daily Bugle.” But the best part is the conclusion, which deserves its own paragraph…
“And so Spider-Man continues to battle crime, sell his thrilling photographs to earn a living, not caring the least for anybody but himself and his Aunt May. He is a maladjusted adolescent, overtly neurotic. He has a terrible identity problem, a marked inferiority complex and a fear of women. He is anti-social, racked with Oedipal guilt and accident-prone. Ill-luck has pursued him since the day he was bitten by that fateful spider. His shyness has led him to adopt a cocky attitude which so alienated other super-heroes that none of them will have anything to do with him. Despite all this, Spider-Man is the most popular anti-hero of our time.”
“Maladjusted!” “Overtly neurotic!” “Fear of women!” “Oedipal guilt!” Forget about Spidey! What is this writer’s story? We’ll never know. We don’t even know which of the three listed authors wrote this hatchet job.
You can’t have the origin without an follow-up story so here is Spidey in The Fire Raisers.
Another department store is on fire. “[T]here had been four fires of a similar nature in the last month which had completely gutted big department stores and Peter was suspicious.” So Peter joins the crowd as firemen battle the blaze. A young man in the crowd hawks fire insurance from the “Phoenix Insurance Company.” Peter admires the salesman’s gumption. “No doubt the young man had a promising future ahead of him,” he thinks. Then, a man appears on the top floor of the store; apparently the night watchman. Peter steals away, changes to Spidey, uses telephone wires to get to the roof, opens a “fan-light” and finds the now-unconscious watchman. He sends him down on a web to a fireman on a ladder below. The fireman throws the guy over his shoulder (!) and takes him to safety. (Wouldn’t it have been easier for Spidey to do this?)
The building starts to collapse. Now, tell me if this paragraph describes any Spider-Man you know… “Spider-Man pressed a button on his compact. A part of the web dropped on the hot roof, shriveled up and melted. Spider-Man tried again, and this time succeeded in casting a thread to the next building. As the roof caved in, Spider-Man swung across the broad avenue to the next building. He scurried away to the dark side and slipped into a small, cool air vent where he lay trembling until the crown had dispersed and gone home, so that he could retrieve his clothes from the alley.” His compact? The web melted? A thread? He hid and lay trembling? Say what?
A week later, Peter worries that the young insurance salesman is behind the fires. He looks up the address of the Phoenix Insurance Company and finds it is “in a tall building in the centre of the city.” In fact, “He could see the building from his bathroom window.” Yes, that detail is included! So, Spidey swings over to the building and spies on the office. There he finds the salesman with three other men, discussing the arson they have committed in order to sell fire insurance. Apparently, the three (one is named Luke, one is named Harry, and the third is unnamed) set the fires. Spidey jumps in. The salesman is terrified because “They say his bite is poisonous.” Spidey threatens to eat the salesman, then uses his “silk” to wrap up the four men, pinning them to the “outside wall of the skyscraper, ninety feet above the pavement.” “It took the police and firemen six hours to take the four men down, but in that time they had a full confession from each of them.” Yes, Spidey’s “silk” lasts six hours and Spidey leaves the heavy work to the police and firemen instead of webbing them up near the ground. The three arsonists get 15 years in prison. The salesman “got twenty years for organizing the gang.”
The story finishes with this sentence: “As Peter Parker remarked to his Aunt May, ‘It seems such a waste of talent.’” Huh? What? Criminal talent? Salesman talent? Stupid-enough-to-think-Spidey’s-bite-is-poisonous talent?
So, the plot is cockeyed and the understanding of Spider-Man is worse. And the writing style? Well, check out this paragraph from early on when bystanders see fire trucks coming: “People turned and stared after the red mechanical monster, saw the lurid glow in the night sky, and then scurried along to see the inferno which was destroying one of man’s monstrosities of concrete and steel. They were eager to see destruction; eager to see hungry fire; eager to see death.” This may be the worst Spider-Man story I have ever read.
Back to Headquarters is a board game, starring the Fantastic Four. It has overly-complicated instructions or instructions written in an overly complicated style. In my edition, the coloring is tenuous enough that Mr. Fantastic’s hair is green.
Puzzle it Out follows with three quizzes that have nothing to do with Marvel characters except that Dr. Strange and the Hulk are mentioned in the text.
The Cushioned Clash pits Iron Man against his arch-foe…the Bloated Bandit. It begins in the boardroom of Stark Industries where board members Senator Lake, Cyrus P. Keeling, and Elmer Q. Quincy sneer at Tony Stark’s idleness as they tell him that “Four consignments of our products, representing half a million in dollars, have been hijacked on four successive nights by a master miscreant.” (The word “miscreant” is used five times in this story.) Secretary Alvin Barnes chimes in as well. But Tony seems unconcerned. After all, he knows who the “miscreant” is. The Bloated Bandit. Unbeknownst to his board, Tony has been piecing together clues and has determined that the Bandit’s hideout is in a cave along the shoreline of Twin Lakes. (Or, as the narrator puts it, “if Cyrus P. Keeling and his associates could have joined Tony Stark in the locked privacy of his sanctum, their very eyes would have popped from their sockets like bulging golf balls!”)
Tony flies to Twin Lakes as Iron Man and finds the Bloated Bandit, who looks like the Michelin Man and whose outfit is made of rubber so he can bounce away from trouble. (The narrator calls him, the “inflated brigand of bounce.”) After they fight for a while, the Bandit escapes into his cave and seals off the entrance. Iron Man finds another way in and confronts him, finally defeating the Bloated Bandit by using his “Reverser Ray” which reverses the direction of a “blast of stupefying gas” released by the Bandit “straight back into his enemy’s hidden face.” Curious as to the Bandit’s identity, Iron Man removes his helmet to reveal….Senator Lake? Cyrus P. Keeling? Elmer Q. Quincy? Secretary Alvin Barnes? No. Someone we’ve never heard of. “Judson Croker, secretary of the Civic Transportation Bureau which had recently required all companies to notify in advance full details of their trucking runs and the nature of their consignments!” Hey, thanks for telling us. This may have had more impact if we’d heard something about this beforehand. And since when does Iron Man have a Reverser Ray?
Anyway, Tony returns to his boardroom only to have the board dump on him for doing nothing while Iron Man pulled their fat from the fire. “’Yes, you could pick up a few tips from that gallant crusader,’ snapped Keeling. ‘Why don’t you get him on the payroll of Stark Industries, huh?’ ‘You seem to forget that Iron Man is my personal bodyguard,’ said Tony. ‘So in effect he is already on the payroll.” Yeah, Keeling! Take that! All right, it’s not much of an ending but it’s all we’ve got.
Tired of all this? Sorry. We’re only about halfway through.
Tomb of Terror is a Captain America tale set in World War II. Bucky is also featured but the publishers must not have had the rights to Bucky’s image (or they just didn’t care) because he is drawn as a non-descript face in a non-descript uniform. Actually his face is turned away like Downwind Jaxon in the old Smilin’ Jack newspaper strip. (Check out image #1 for Jaxon.)
The British Desert Rats are about to stage an attack on Rommel’s Afrika Korps. They get word that the Nazi SS are planning an attack of their own. Or as Colonel Aylmer Featherstone puts it, “An intercepted series of code messages by ultra short-wave radio strongly hints at the distinct probability of a vicious counter-strike against our battle-ready troops.” Their attack is set for dawn tomorrow and they fear the SS will strike before that.
But Cap and Bucky are already on the job. They drive a jeep through the desert and encounter Nazi tanks. They are forced to stop and, “their hands streaking for their guns,” they confront the SS. (Has Cap ever actually used a gun?) But the Nazis spray them with gas, knocking them out.
Do they kill them? Of course not. They take them to their hideout, which is in “the tomb of long-gone kings.” A pyramid, in other words. So, the Nazis have taken them all the way into Egypt? When they awaken, Major Lieberhart of the SS taunts and confronts them. Actually, he does more than that. He tells them, “Since you haf no hope of escape, Captain, it vill be a pleasure to tell you of our plans.” Don’t you love these villains who have to blab about their plans, giving the heroes time to escape?
It turns out that the Nazis have three V2 rockets set to blast off from the pyramid. One each to carry Cap and Bucky to their deaths and the third to wipe out the Desert Rats. As Lieberhart puts it, “der V2 rocket blasts straight through der pyramid roof, which has been opened” Do pyramids have roofs? Can they open?
Well, of course, Cap and Bucky break free and bust up the whole operation. Cap knocks Lieberhart out, prompting this line, “…and Captain Hans Wilhelm Lieberhart ceased to take any further interest in the proceedings!” Which I rather like.
The next problem is to deal with the main V2 rocket, which has been set to blast off on a timer. Good thing Cap is an expert in such things. He gets to the controls, resets the target, and the rocket lands “slap, dab in the middle of the Afrika Korps!” Mission accomplished.
It’s a Small World tells us, “Some interesting facts were discovered by Henry Pym in his researches” on ants, and then uses that as a springboard for two pages of info about ants. No need to go into any of that, except to mention that the illustrations of ants are better than the illustrations of the super-heroes.
Marvel Puzzles is our last glimpse of Spider-Man in these pages. He is there because puzzle #2 is “Spider-Man’s Crossword.” None of the clues refer to Spider-Man or spiders. Puzzle #1 is “Iron Man’s Number Maze” so Shellhead is also on this page. Puzzle #3 belongs to nobody. Eh, why bother?
The Ghost of Ned Kelly is another Iron Man tale, because “The Cushioned Clash” was so successful.
Tony Stark is out in the Australian bush, near the town of Wangaratta in the state of Victoria. He is with his Australian girlfriend “Dusty” Glen, the “ladies tennis champion.” (When describing how easy it was to win on grass courts after growing up playing on sun-baked ground, Dusty says, “Gosh, it was as easy as taking jam from a baby.” I always thought it was as easy as taking candy from a baby. Must be an Australian thing.) Dusty mentions that the area is “Kelly Country” and then must tell Tony who Ned Kelly was. “Ned Kelly was a fearless bushranger who used to terrrorise the Victoria and New South Wales border country about a hundred years ago, plundering towns and holding up banks,” she says. (By the way there is also a 1970 film that stars Mick Jagger with music by Shel Silverstein! And a 2003 film that stars Heath Ledger. I have seen neither of these.)
When they arrive at their destination, Tony settles into a hotel room. (Dusty is visiting relatives and not staying at the hotel.) He knows he should charge up the iron breastplate that keeps him alive but decides to do it after going out with Dusty. She takes him to Oven River where gold has been recently discovered and prospectors are panning for it. They also talk about a recent wave of bank robberies by a gang led by “a man called Black Jack because of the colour of his beard.” Tony returns to his room at midnight and goes right to bed rather than recharging his breastplate. He figures he can do it in the morning. But when he wakes up, he discovers that the power is out. There is also gunfire outside. Investigating, he’s told “this town’s been hit by Black Jack’s gang. He’s blown up the electric sub-station and the telephone exchange.” Black Jack has decided to rob the prospectors who are staying in the hotel. His gang and the prospectors are firing guns back and forth at each other.
Barely able to move due to his failing chestplate, Tony makes it back to his room and puts on the rest of his Iron Man outfit. He goes outside and walks toward Black Jack who opens fire on him but the bullets bounce off. “It’s a ghost!’ yelled one of the desperadoes. ‘…the ghost of Ned Kelly’.” The gang immediately flees because “they had a deep, superstitious fear of the supernatural, which is fairly common among criminals.” His stamina gone, Iron Man collapses.
He awakens in a hospital. (I’m trying to imagine these townspeople lifting up Iron Man and taking him to a hospital.) There he recharges because “all hospitals have their own stand-by generators.” Fully charged, he returns to the hotel, changes into evening clothes and meets Dusty in the lounge. “Did you see that man go after Black Jack’s gang this morning?” she says, “Why, he was the gamest man I’ve ever seen.” “’As game as Ned Kelly?’ he asked. ‘As game as Ned Kelly!’ she replied.”
This is probably the best story in the book so far. The whole idea of Iron Man confronting Black Jack’s gang when he can barely move is very dramatic. I can see the gang fleeing because the bullets bounce off him but do they have to think he’s the ghost of Ned Kelly? Does he look like the ghost of Ned Kelly? Doesn’t he, instead, look like Iron Man? Haven’t any of these people, including Dusty, heard of Iron Man? So, I’m not hot on that. I also don’t like that the gang gets away. How does the writer deal with that? With this paragraph: “Iron Man watched them go. He knew that now their courage had been broken, the gang could never be more than a shadow of its former self. It was only a matter of time before it disintegrated.” I kid you not.
In Guardians of the Tomb, Dr. Strange is visiting London to give a speech in the Free Trade Hall. He drinks a glass of water and the narrator tells us, “This was the best drink in the world, and, although it was free, it was never tasted by most people.” Huh? Water hasn’t been tasted by most people? And what’s with this plug for water? Is the writer a part of the water lobby?
Soon after, Strange gets two visitors. Geoff is an RAF navigator and Bill is the pilot. Geoff claims that he picked up a walled city on his radar when they flew over the Pennines. They tried several other times to find it again but failed. Geoff is looking for a mystic explanation but Dr. Strange blows them off. (“I’d advise you to see an optician.”) The two RAF men leave.
The next morning, after giving his lecture, Strange considers Geoff’s story again. He travels in his astral form to the Pennines where he finds Geoff and Bill investigating. Bill notes that there is “a dirty, big cloud overhead, and if we don’t find shelter quickly, we’ll be soaked to the skin.” They squeeze under a “protruding rock” and find an opening under it. They discover it is a “pothole,” which I always thought was a hole that forms in the asphalt of a street but turns out is also a “natural underground cavity.” There, they find a rock formation that looks like two Roman soldiers standing back to back. They speculate that they actually are Roman soldiers who stood there so long that they turned to stone.
Continuing their search, they find a store of Roman swords and shields. On their way out, they try to pull out a rock to make the entrance wider. Good thinking. It causes a cave-in that traps them. They search for another way out and find an underground stream but it ends at a rock wall. “A whirlpool on the surface of the water signified that the stream disappeared though a hole in the ground.”
With the cave entrance blocked, the air gets stale and the two men gasp for breath. “Dr. Strange was most upset.” Yes, that’s how the narrator puts it. He speeds back to his body and calls the police who readily agree to “call out the RAF mountain rescue team.” (The RAF has a mountain rescue team?)
Later at the cave, “RAF bulldozers push away the loose rock.” Inside the men find the Roman objects but not Geoff and Bill. Puzzled, Dr. Strange walks to the top of a hill to think things over and sees something. “At the bottom of the hill, the land flattened out. There, pools of water, left by the thunderstorm, lay in rectangular patterns over a wide area. Dr. Strange immediately realized that radar signals would be reflected away from the surface of the water, but would bounce back to the aircraft from the surrounding gorse. To a navigator in an aircraft the picture on his screen would look like a walled city!” To which I can only say, “Huh?”
Strange realizes that there used to be a Roman city here and “pools of water lying in the slight depressions” reveal its foundation. He returns to his hotel and finds Geoff and Bill in the lounge. They tell him they dove into the underground stream and that it surfaced after about 30 yards. And the story fizzles from there.
Let’s face it, this is a story that doesn’t need Dr. Strange at all. He refuses to help Geoff and Bill. They discover the cave without him and they escape it without him. Good going, Doc!
People into Superheroes is the only story in here that gives us a writer byline. John W. Elliott cobbled this one together, telling the origins of the Fantastic Four, Thor and the Hulk. Mostly the stories come right from the comics but there is a little bit of license here; my favorite being Elliott’s attempts to deal with American Football. Observe: “Reed found himself roomed with Ben Grimm, brought up in the slums, aggressive and moody, but the best footballer of the day. Ben Grimm and Reed Richards hit it off right from the start, and Reed was often seen on the touchline cheering on his friend, especially when Ben was chosen to play for the American National Team.” Footballer? Touchline? American National Team? Oh well, it was a game effort.
And speaking of the FF, they star in the next story, The Bull of Minos. The FF are performing in a charity circus in Cnossus in Crete. The Thing gets moody because, while he has “the strength of an ox,” he doesn’t have the “grace, the speed or the polished movements of a circus performer” like the others do. After the show, the foursome takes a tour of the ruins of King Minos’ palace where they learn about the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. The still-moody Thing spitefully pushes a pillar over, opening up a secret passageway. Inside they find Roman guardians made of stone. No, no, just kidding. Inside they find the Minotaur sitting on a golden throne and supping on “choice fruits and delicacies.” This time I’m not kidding. The Minotaur turns out to be quite erudite and well spoken. He tells them that he has the food and drink of the gods and that they may as well join him since they will spend the rest of eternity with him. When the FF object, he tells them that they are in the Labyrinth and will never find the way out. Except, “If any of you can fight the Bull of Minos, then you can all return to your own world.” The Thing volunteers.
The Minotaur summons the Bull with three blasts on a horn. The Bull is “the size of a tank” and it flings the Thing, “somersaulting in the air” and landing “on the hard stone floor.” This happens, according to the narrator, “sixteen or seventeen times.” Finally, the Thing has had enough. He grabs the Bull by the tail and swings him around, smashing him into unconsciousness on the rock walls. With that, Sue leads the group out of the maze. “If we keep to the right every time, my feminine intuition tells me we’ll find our way out,” she says and she is right. Meanwhile, the Thing has shaken his moodiness. After somersaulting sixteen or seventeen times, “Now he knew he could do more than just bend, break, twist and smash. That afternoon, he would introduce his new act. At last he would be free to jump and turn, like the other circus performers.”
So, the Minotaur tells them that they can only return to their world if they defeat the Bull of Minos but when the Thing defeats the Bull of Minos, this has nothing to do with escaping the Labyrinth. Sue does it, not the Thing’s victory. So, was the Bull guarding the exit from the center of the Labyrinth? That’s not what the story says. So, could they have escaped without even fighting the Bull? Or could they have defeated the Bull and not found the way out of the Labyrinth? Thank goodness for “feminine intuition.”
We haven’t had a Thor story yet. So, here’s North Sea Wolf. The paddle-streamer Glen Lowrie heads for the Orkneys and the Shetlands, north of Scotland, to deliver provisions. But pirates, led by a black bearded man, board the ship and hijack it. They order the crew and passengers into a lifeboat. When the Captain objects, someone knocks him to the deck with a blow from a shotgun butt.
Dr. Don Blake just happens to be a passenger on this ship, having been on a trip to visit old Viking sites. He is asleep when the pirates attack or else he could have transformed into Thor and taken care of them. Now that the Captain is injured, he remains in his Blake form to care for him. So, he allows the pirates to set them all adrift.
It isn’t long before he decides the Captain is fine so he changes into Thor. “Nobody seemed to notice that Dr. Blake had disappeared in the shock of seeing this fantastic figure appear.” And they never do notice, even though Blake was the one who treated the Captain. Thor tells them, “I shall pull this boat with my hammer to a safe place.” A passenger interrupts, saying, “I am not an authority on navigation, by a long chalk, but I know it is a very tricky science. Without instruments, how can you be sure where you are or where you are going? I mean, the sky is completely overcast so you can’t tell your direction from the sun, and the sea looks the same all around. I confess I am worried. If we sail too far away from here, the rescue people may never find us. Now how can you expect to navigate without instruments across the open sea?” The answer? “Because I am Thor, son of Odin.”
And it turns out, he’s right. With a bit of help from the Captain and a helmsman, Thor takes the lifeboat to the Scottish coast. In the moonlight, he also sees the Glen Lowrie, aground nearby. Leaving the others in the lifeboat, Thor tracks down the pirates who are trying to dig a lorry out of a snow drift. “Thor smashed his hammer into the front of the lorry so it broke through the radiator, smashed the fan, and knocked the cylinder head through the bulkhead into the driver’s cab.” Then he orders the pirates to push the lorry back to the ship. He discovers the loot they took in the back of the lorry, including “a military computer addressed to an air force radar site in the outer islands.”
When they arrive at the ship, Thor orders the pirates to replace the goods in the ship’s hold. The exhausted pirates are easily subdued and locked up. The ship departs, leaving Thor behind. And no one ever does notice that Don Blake is gone.
I can’t leave this story without commenting on one of the illustrations. Thor, his back to us, has his arm around a man with green hair as they stand up in the lifeboat. This is, apparently, the Captain who is now well enough to stand in a floating lifeboat. There are three other passengers shown. They all have sketchy “Phantom of the Opera” faces. Thor is pointing at something. Who knows what. All in all, a really disturbing image.
Next is the one-page Riddles From the Fantastic Four with no illustration whatsoever. There are 15 riddles that have nothing to do with the Fantastic Four. Some are better than others. My favorites:
Q: There were three shops. One was lit by electricity, one by gas, and one by oil. Which was the fishmonger’s? A: The one that sold fish, of course.
Dr. Strange rates a second story for some reason. (Because “Guardians of the Tomb” was so successful. This one is called, Flight Into Danger.
Dr. Strange is in India, preparing to “gather wisdom from the gurus and yogis in India and Tibet.” An Englishman insists on seeing him. He tells Strange he is looking for evidence of the fate of his two sons who disappeared in their airplane somewhere in the jungle. He tells Strange that a “half-cast boy” gave him a box containing items belonging to his sons, including a necklace that was placed around the neck of one boy when he was a child and now could only come off, unbroken, if his head had been cut off. The Englishman admits that he took the spare fuel from his sons’ plane because he was impatient to fly his own plane to their plantation and didn’t want to wait for the airport store to open. He left a note on the seat of the sons’ plane telling them what he had done. Now he fears they never saw the note and that they are dead. When Strange asks him what he wants, the Englishman says, “Save them.”
Turns out Doc is as big a pain as he was in the other story. He snaps at the Englishman, telling him “If your boys are dead, they are dead, there is no appeal.” But he does agree to look into it. The Englishman leaves the boys’ belongings. Strange places them in a bowl, lights incense, and leaves his body in his astral form. He goes back in time two weeks (which is not a power Strange has, but let’s run with it) and visits the airport. There he sees the Englishman take the fuel and leave the note. He sees that one of the sons drops a parachute on the seat so that they never see the note. Then he follows along as they fly over the jungle. When they realize they have no gas, they are forced to land near an ancient temple where a Yogi orders their execution. They are led to an executioner’s block and the Yogi’s followers draw their swords waiting for the order to strike.
But then the Yogi goes into a trance and Doc realizes that the Yogi has left his body. Doc takes advantage and “slipped into the old man’s body.” Using the body, Strange orders the release of the prisoners, then stays in the Yogi’s body until he hears the sound of the plane flying away. He returns to his own body and finds no sign of the boys’ belongings. “It seemed that by some freak chance, Dr. Strange had in fact changed history.”
Later, Strange sees the two boys with their father at a ball. “They laughed and joked with their host and the other guests. And yet, as Dr. Strange knew too well, only two weeks ago, their headless bodies had been buried in the jungle outside a remote temple.”
This is the best story in the book. You’ve got to love the alternate history bit, with the sons never knowing they died and the father never having to go to Dr. Strange, never knowing he saved them. So, it required Doc having astral time travel powers but what the heck. There’s only one question I have. If the sons had run out of gas when they landed at the temple, how were they able to take off and fly away?
We had “Riddles from the Fantastic Four.” Now we have Jokes From Doctor Strange because he’s seemed so jolly in the two stories in this book. There are four one-panel gag cartoons and nine jokes, none of which are very funny. The best? (Sad but true.) “A man lost his dog and telephoned the local newspaper to offer a reward of 100 pounds. Next day there was no newspaper. ‘Why is there no paper today?’ asked the man. ‘Because everyone is out looking for a dog!’ was the reply.”
We’ve almost done it! The End of the Hulk is the end of the book! Let’s get right to it!
Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are riding on a train in northern Canada. Worried that the Hulk will cause more destruction, Banner gets Rick to promise that he will bring in the authorities if he should turn into the Hulk. Rick, meanwhile, looks at the lake and dam they are passing and tries to get Bruce to agree to a week of quiet reflection and fishing.
Suddenly, for no reason, Bruce turns into the Hulk while still on the train. Rick pulls the communication cord to stop the train, then, somehow, gets to the top of the dam to notify the Mounties before the Hulk even smashes out of the train. First, the Hulk encounters some very game lumberjacks but they pull back when the military arrives. They throw everything they can at the Hulk, including napalm, to no avail. Then, rockets fired by an airplane skip off the surface of the lake and bounce back up into the air. One of them strikes the plane, which crashes into the dam, destroying it. The land is flooded and the military assumes the Hulk is dead.
Rick seems completely unconcerned about the flooding. He sits on a boulder trying to accept that he will never see Bruce Banner again. But then Bruce appears, “wet, bedraggled and exhausted.” He tells Rick “I’m afraid the Hulk really is indestructible.” When Rick says he is glad, Bruce agrees. “You see, Rick, I have an idea for using gamma rays to cure bronchitis.” Uh, no thanks, Doc. “Now, Rick, what was that you were saying about a quiet week’s fishing?” “Just leave that to me, doc,” says Rick. “You relax and work out your new cure. I’ll fix up the fishing tackle.”
Good idea, guys. Let’s get some fishing tackle and relax in the area where the dam just got destroyed and the army dropped napalm. Sounds like fun!
And that, finally, is the Marvel Story Book Annual. Was it good for you, too?
You know when I speak about how “cool” some 60s Marvel product is, it has little to do with its quality but mostly to do with how fun it is to have in your collection. That being understood, I have to give zero webs for the content of this book. It is truly, irredeemably awful. But I have to give five webs for how cool it is. The awfulness of the interior even adds to the coolness. So, let’s meet in the middle and call it two and a half webs.
Adam Spector has written in and expounded on a few things. Adam writes, "the UK market for comics at the time was very different from the US, very different. Marvel changed that with the introduction of the Mighty World of Marvel in 1972. Power Comics, that reprinted early '60's Marvels, had only just begun their brief run in this area that very year. The heroes from the States were something totally new. And it's unfortunate that the artists who were talented in their own area had no idea of how to proceed with the characters they were asked to produce (cover artist, JW Smethurst, was a talented designer in the area of pulp fiction). Clearly they had little knowledge of superheroes. Probably a bad choice of creators to produce this Annual but, there was little or nothing for them to reference from (I would imagine, Maxfield Parish for all his genius would have probably messed up Spider-Man)." Adam added, "By the way I've had some of this country's greatest comic minds going at it over, the first non US, original, Marvel work. They are of the opinion, after 10 hours of debate that it is a Hulk story from 1966. This was in a now defunct comic called, Smash." Thank you, Adam!
Yikes! It’s been nearly a year since the last “From the Beginning!” Let’s not have that happen again. A short one next time. The Captain Action & Action Boy promo.