Marvel Tales #17

Background

With the Torch story at 18 pages and the Thor story at 13 pages, we only have room for three stories and what an odd combination of stories they are. The Clown and His Masters of Menace, the first Marvel Age appearance of Captain America (?) and Norse Mythology giants walking the earth.

Story Details

  Marvel Tales #17
Summary: Human Torch & Thor Backups
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #22
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #114 (Story 1)
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #104

Our cover this time is pretty much the same as that of ASM #22, March 1965. It is one of those infrequent issues that don’t feature Spidey on the cover (only his shadow and spider-signal). The illustration has been shifted towards the bottom of the page to fit the logo, blurbs, and Marvel Comics Group box (which is larger than the one used back in 1965) up above. This requires that the blurb “Spidey Battles the Clown and his Masters of Menace!” be moved onto the spider-signal itself, which I rather like. I’m not as high on the blurb just below the “TALE” part of the logo that reads “A multiple mélange of the mad, mod, Marvel mystique!” The “m” alliteration continues on the inside front cover with “more majestic masterpieces of magnanimous Marvel memorabilia.” The credits riff off of the spy mania of the time… Our Man Flint, the Man From UNCLE, the Man From Glad…which themselves riff off of Graham Greene’s novel “Our Man in Havana.” Here, Stan, Sol Brodsky, Roy, John Verpoorten, Sharon Kay, Morrie Kuramoto, and Irving Forbush are listed as “Our Man From Edit!” “Our Man From Production!” “Our Man From Help!” “Our Man From Art!” “Our Gal From Color!” “Our Man From Somewhere!” and “Our Man From Janitor!” respectively.

With only three stories, the Spidey tale gets the top half of the greytone illustrations with Thor and the Torch sharing the bottom half. The Spidey drawing comes from page 11, panel 1 of the story. Thor takes the bottom left position even though his story is last. His drawing is a rearranging of the splash page. The Torch illo is from page 4 panel 1 with some extra flame and a fireball thrown in so it appears that the Torch is attacking Captain America, which he is not doing in the panel in the story.

So, let’s get to it. The issue leads off with Preeeeeesenting... the Clown, and his Masters of Menace! from ASM #22. In my review of the original, I said, “I love Jonah Jameson (and Steve Ditko!) at the Art Gallery, Cannonball head-butting JJJ, Spidey hypnotizing Ringo with his own hat, the fight scene, and the way Princess Python twists the web-slinger around her little finger, but it still looks like we're in a holding pattern to me.” And I gave it three webs.

So, let’s move on. Our next story comes from Strange Tales #114, November 1963 and it seems like a pretty big deal because The Human Torch Meets…Captain America. So, is this the real first appearance of Cap in the Marvel Age? Not Avengers #4, March 1964? In a word…no. And the parenthetical after the title that reads “Please don’t reveal the surprise ending of this tale…” is probably a tip-off.

So, Johnny is flaming through a typically ornate Jack Kirby contraption when three of his friends run up with some “big news.” The Invisible Girl is also there and she warns the boys to not interrupt the Torch “during his practice hour.” But Johnny can’t stop in time and the three boys must hit the deck while Johnny intentionally runs into the “water barrier” to protect them. Sitting soaked and “flameless” amongst his friends, Johnny asks what it’s all about. When the boys ask him if he remembers Captain America, Sue gets huffy. “You mean that’s what you interrupted us for? To talk about an old comics magazine hero?” she says and stalks off, declaring, “Teen-agers! They’re all nuts!” But, after Sue leaves, the boys assure Johnny that Cap is “alive…really alive!” and “making a public appearance today at the antique auto show in town.” They tell Johnny he must attend. “Two real super-heroes in Glenville! Wow!” Johnny agrees to go.

Soon after, Johnny wanders through the crowd at the auto show, wondering, “Where has Captain America been all these years? Why does he decide to show up now?” Just then, two crooks jump into an “antique racing car” (Friendly reminder: don’t leave your keys in the car, kids!) and drive off through the crowd. Johnny flames on and follows but Cap jumps in front of him, saying “One side, sonny! I’ll handle this!” and lands on the hood of the car. (This is the panel, by the way, that was used as in the frontispiece with a fireball added.) The crooks shoot at Cap but his shield deflects the bullets. Torchy tries to figure out how he can stop the car without destroying it and decides to melt the road in front of it. (This doesn’t destroy the car??) Fortunately, all of the roads in Glenville are apparently dirt roads because the car sinks into mud. The Torch thinks that Cap “will be impressed” but, instead, Cap yells at him to “Beat it, you flaming freak! Look how messy you made everything!” He uses his shield to scoop up a load of mud and flings it at the Torch who responds by throwing flame balls at him. (Now is the time for flameballs.) The crooks slog through the mud while the heroes are fighting but they run right into the police.

As the police take the car thieves away, Cap gets off of the hood of the car by hopping “on that crane after it dug the car out of the molten mud.” We aren’t shown this and since when did the mud become “molten?” The crooks walked through with the mud up to their knees. Everyone swoons over Cap (“He’s the greatest thing to come to Glenville in years!”) leaving the Torch to feel like “they need me there like an outbreak of measles.” This is a common theme in these early Torch stories. Someone makes the Torch look bad, he pouts, he battles the person who made him look bad who is actually a crook and he regains his reputation and self-esteem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Johnny visits his girl friend Dorrie Evans. He reads all about Cap in the newspaper and grouses about him. Dorrie tells Johnny that he’s just jealous. “He’s my idea of a real man,” Dorrie says of Cap. Johnny complains, “You’re always telling me you wish I weren’t a super-hero and now you drool over him!” And he’s got a point. But he gets so annoyed that his flame comes on, which makes the soda bottle he’s holding “steam open.” Still flamed on, he runs to the kitchen to dump the soda in the sink but he sets Dorrie’s “mother’s new linoleum” on fire. “You menace!” Dorrie yells, “Get out of here before you accidentally burn the house down!” and she’s got a point because Johnny is still leaving flaming footprints as he runs to the door. Dorrie gets on the phone, even as Johnny is still running, and says my favorite line in the story: “Hello, hello…send some new linoleum over right away!”

As Johnny flies around feeling sorry for himself, Cap is up to no good. He runs across a telephone wire and leaps down to a flagpole, which is, fortunately, right next to the window of the jail cell occupied by the two thieves. And one of them says, “It’s about time! What took you so long?” Cap tells them to step back while he uses some corrosive acid on the cell bars. He yanks out the bars (Does he drop them to the street? We never find out.) and has the two men climb over him to the roof. Then, one panel later, they are on the street as Cap gives them a Ferrari. Huh? Wait! How’d they get off the roof? Where’d Cap get a Ferrari? He tells them to “be sure you’re seen! I want as many cops as possible chasing you!” As the two crooks drive off, Cap moves on to “phase two of my plan.”

Now, since no one seemed to notice that Cap melted the cell bars, helped the crooks to the roof, and gave them a Ferrari, I’m not sure how the police tumbled to it but, as the thieves head out of town, it “looks like the whole police department” is following them. (There are 12 motorcycle cops and 4 police cars.) The trouble is, they can’t keep up with the Ferrari, so the Torch puts on his speed, “streaking through the air like a blazing meteor.” He catches up just as the crooks are “trying to race around that horseshoe bend in the road.” So, apparently, Glenville is right by a mountain road next to a lake. The Torch uses a “flaming scythe” to knock the car off the road, sending it down toward the lake. But who owns that Ferrari? We can assume that Cap stole it, right? Well, it’s toast now. Johnny tells the crooks that they have “a nice soft, cozy lake below you to break your fall” but that lake is pretty far below them and the car is falling, too. Seems like a pretty casual attitude considering the two crooks could be killed by the fall.

They aren’t, of course, and the car seems to disappear. It’s just the two of them now, trying to swim away. They think they’re safe from the Torch because they’re in the water but the Torch uses his flame to heat up the water. “Yeeow! It’s like swimmin’ in a steam bath!” says one, and they quickly give up. When Johnny pulls them out of the water, they admit “The whole thing was planned by Captain America,” and “He wanted us as decoys to get the police out of Glenville so he could stay behind and rob the bank!”

The police all finally show up and arrest the crooks while Johnny heads to the bank and a seven-page showdown with Captain America. Cap is already there. He has tied up the “lone bank guard” and waited for “the time vault” to open. He pushes a cart full of white bags with dollar signs on them and heads outside where, apparently, no one is on the street. There, he summons a cable that will hoist him up to his “floating sky platform” and I’m wondering, if he has the money to get all this fancy equipment, why he is bothering to rob a bank.

The Torch arrives but Cap is climbing into an escape capsule at the top of his flying contraption. “His floating platform is like an aerobee rocket with a helicopter device for a launch pad,” thinks the Torch and, no, I don’t know what an aerobee rocket is, either. Johnny uses his flame to ignite the main rocket, forcing Cap to take off in his escape capsule. But, soon after (in the very next panel), Cap bails out. He has somehow found the time to put on a parachute and he holds off opening it until the last moment. Once he opens it, however, he gets caught on the blades of a prop windmill that is perched on top of a theatre that is showing that well-known film “The Deserted Windmill.” Johnny thinks he has him but a fireball singes Cap’s harness, allowing him to break away.

Cap makes his way to a sporting goods store. Inside, he takes the mop away from the janitor, soaks it in the bucket, and uses a bow to shoot it at the arriving Torch. The wet mop puts out Johnny’s flame. (“One crummy sopping mop couldn’t have doused my flame if it wasn’t weak already,” he says.) While Johnny is vulnerable, Cap runs up with some handcuffs that they, apparently, sell at the sporting goods store, and clamps them on the Torch’s wrists. Cap flees and Johnny must wait for his flame to return. He gets help from the janitor who surrounds him with electric heaters that they, apparently, sell at the sporting goods store. This dries Johnny enough to “flame on” and melt the handcuffs. (Don’t they sell the keys with the handcuffs?) He takes off after Cap and finds him driving a truck. “Good thing I had time to steal this special kind of truck,” says Cap, although where he managed to get it is anybody’s guess because it turns out to have a trailer with an “asbestos-lined interior.” Now, maybe if Cap had bothered to go right to the outside of town where his capsule, conveniently, landed, instead of bothering to steal an asbestos-lined truck, he might have gotten away with his money. Instead, once at the capsule, he tricks the Torch into flying into the trailer. But Johnny knows that “in an enclosed area like this, the flame energy is turned to gas” and he flames like crazy until the gas expands and blows the back off the truck.

Outside, Cap hasn’t even gotten the money out of the capsule yet as Johnny surrounds him with “flaming bars.” He unmasks Cap and learns that he isn’t the real Cap at all but “my old enemy, the Acrobat, with your mustache shaved off.” (This is the “surprise ending” you weren’t supposed to reveal.) The Acrobat previously faced the Torch in Strange Tales #106, March 1963 that was reprinted in Marvel Tales #8, May 1967 where I gave it five webs! He only has only more appearance and that isn’t until Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #11, July 1999.

Johnny leaves the Acrobat for the police and returns home to dig out an old issue of Captain America. (So, it appears that Johnny read Cap’s adventures as well as Namor’s adventures, as revealed in Fantastic Four #4, May 1962.) “I remember how he used to secretly change from Army private Steve Rogers to the great C.A.” he says and then thinks, “Wonder what ever did become of him? Is he still alive? Will he ever return? I’d sure like to know.” In a concluding caption, Stan writes, “You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” and, in an additional caption tacked on for Marvel Tales, Stan (or Roy) adds, “And if you don’t know what it was, then you must’ve been outta the country these past few years! Nuff said!”

You’ve got to admit, this was a pretty clever way to gauge the audience interest in Captain America. And you’ve got to admit that there are some great crazy early 60s stuff in this story like melted road that becomes mud, like Johnny tracking his fiery footprints across Dorrie’s floor, like Cap suddenly having a Ferrari, like the wild chase with the Deserted Windmill and the mop shot like an arrow and the asbestos liked truck bed. It’s early Lee and Kirby at its best. Five webs. I guess I’m just a sucker for Acrobat stories.

Oh, and send some linoleum right away!

And now, it’s time for Giants Walk the Earth, more Lee/Kirby, this time from Journey Into Mystery #104, May 1964. (Hey, what happened to JIM #103? Well, that Enchantress and Executioner story was reprinted in Thor King-Size Special (Annual) #2, September 1966.) Stan is so high on this story that he proclaims it “Possibly one of the ten all-time epics you will never ever forget!”

In Asgard, Loki berates the Enchantress and the Executioner for failing to defeat Thor. “My plan was perfect! And yet you bungled it!” says Loki, “Thor outsmarted the two of you!” (How? Who knows? We didn’t get the reprint in Marvel Tales.) Soon after, Odin (standing on a crag of rock with lightning flashing around him) summons Loki because he is still troubled that Thor will not give up Jane Foster, even though he has forbidden him to be with her. Not knowing what to do and being oblivious as usual, he asks Loki for advice. This is what Loki has been waiting for. He tells Odin that he must “go to Earth and assert your authority in person.” Really showing how oblivious he is, Odin decides to “invest [Loki] with a portion of my power” to rule Asgard while he is gone.

On Earth, Dr. Donald Blake looks over an exhausted Jane Foster. “She is still weary from that terrible ordeal with the Executioner and the Enchantress,” he thinks. (Which we don’t know anything about because we didn’t get a reprint in Marvel Tales.) Jane wakes up and Don sends her home to take the day off. After Jane leaves, Don leans out his window and muses. “I don’t like it! It’s too quiet! The air is too still! Something ominous is about to happen!” He rubs his chin and says, “Now that the Executioner and the Enchantress have failed, who knows what Loki will try next?” (Okay, okay, enough with the Enchantress and the Executioner!) He changes into Thor to scour the city to see what is up.

“In a shabby section of town,” Odin shows up in a green suit, red tie, and brown fedora. A couple of thugs try to mug him but are repelled by the power of his person. While Odin roams Manhattan, Loki takes over his throne where he declares “It must be mine forever! I’ll never give this up! Never!” To insure this, he uses the power of Odin to free “his two most fearsome enemies.” He releases “Skagg, the Storm Giant, from the circle of flame in which Odin had imprisoned him.” Then he frees Surtur from “the depths of the Earth” where was imprisoned “for all these centuries.” Heimdall, who sees all, sees this. Since he can’t leave his post on the Rainbow Bridge, he summons Balder the Brave. (How does he summon him if he can’t leave his post?) Balder takes “Odin’s own winged” battle stallion but there’s a funny mistake here with the horse referred to as a “battle station.”

Rendering himself invisible to all but “immortal eyes,” Balder travels to Earth. Thor sees him and snags the horse’s reins with his hammer. Balder tells Thor that Loki has freed Skagg and Surtur and that Odin is on Earth. Thor figures that Odin is there to see him and is probably at Dr. Blake’s office. Yes, Odin is there…and so is Jane Foster! (Didn’t Don send her home just moments ago?) She tells Odin that there are others ahead of him waiting for the doctor but Odin gives her a godly glare and she tells him to go right in. Just then, Thor enters by the window and bows to Odin, telling him that Skagg and Surtur are free. Declaring, “The human race must not witness what is about to occur,” Odin waves his hand and “the entire human race…is instantly transported to a dimension beyond the ken of the human mind.” (So, if he can do that with a wave of a hand, why does he have any trouble at all with Skagg and Surtur?)

Then, Skagg appears in the ocean off the coast of Manhattan, wielding a “ten-ton war club.” The three Asgardians now stand on a rooftop, watching Skagg’s arrival. Balder rushes off on the “battle station” to take on the Storm Giant, where he uses his sword to shatter Skagg’s club. But because he’s a Storm Giant, Skagg uses the remnants of his club to create a “giant waterspout which will toss you aside like the tiny insect you are.” Balder is repelled by the waterspout so Thor takes over. But before he can do anything, Surtur arrives and throws a “huge firebolt” that unbalances Thor’s hammer, causing Thor to fall into the ocean.

Now, Odin decides he must step in. He gestures and commands “the bed of the sea to soften beneath the feet of Skagg.” (Why doesn’t he just send him away like he did the human race?) As Skagg sinks, Thor makes his way back to the docks, where Balder (who has apparently gotten out of the waterspout) helps him up.

Surtur uses “the power of his intense flame” to fuse “the earth around Skagg’s feet, hardening it enough to support the towering giant.” Then Surtur leaves for the Arctic Circle where he plans to melt the ice “till the waters run southward, flooding the entire globe.” Skagg stays behind and “creates a storm of ever-increasing intensity, a storm which begins to demolish the old deserted piers which stand at its periphery.” Thor counters with “the fury of a thousand lightning bolts,” which “weakens and stuns” Skagg. Odin has mounted his stallion to face Surtur but first he puts a “protective shield” over Manhattan, and then points his “shining sword” at Skagg, draining the giant’s power. Loki, behind the scenes, “keeps replenishing the strength of Skagg” but even he can’t withstand Odin’s power. Odin defeats Skagg but is exhausted by the effort. So, Thor takes Odin’s sword and announces, “Surtur is an older immortal than I, so my hammer might not prevail against his power! But the sword of Odin…it is older than all…and only Odin’s son can wield it!” (Hmmm. Okay, that’s all new information.) Up in the Arctic, Surtur’s fireball is about to strike an icecap, but the power of Odin’s sword diverts it. That fireball...and Surtur himself…are sent to a “tiny asteroid in another galaxy.” (Another galaxy! And in an instant!) The asteroid is “composed of magnetic particles” and it holds Surtur with a “magnetic pull which will last for ages to come.”

Victorious, a recovered Odin tells Balder and Thor that they have “earned their rest.” He tells them to return to Asgard. “I shall send others to watch over Earth.” But Thor refuses to go and Odin declares, “Still you are obdurate! Then we have settled nothing but this is not the time to speak of such things.” Odin returns the human race to Earth, then he and Balder leave. Thor becomes Don Blake and goes to his office where he apologizes to Jane for “reporting so late.” (Except he was already there before when he sent Jane home!) Jane tells him it’s been a quiet day anyway.

Up in Asgard, Odin punishes Loki, telling him he must “serve the trolls.” Then Odin gazes off into the cosmos and muses, “In all the universe, there is none braver, none worthier than Thor! Yet, I fear for him…for the future is fraught with danger, and his heart is weakened by love!” And this story is weakened by a caption added for this reprint that plugs Tales of Asgard #1, October 1968.

Surtur is not held “for ages to come.” He is back in Dr. Strange #177, February 1969 but Skagg the Storm Giant has been replaced by Ymir the Frost Giant in subsequent stories and this appears to be Skagg’s only appearance.

Well, Stan said, “Possibly one of the ten all-time epics you will never ever forget.” But note that he said, “possibly.” I had completely forgotten this story and, re-reading it, now I see why. It tries to be that “all-time epic.” After all, the whole human race is whisked off the planet because of the threat of these two hugely powerful enemies and yet the story is rather limp and routine. I like the aspiration but not the execution. Two and a half webs.

General Comments

A Lee/Ditko, Lee/Kirby, Lee/Kirby threesome that flips my view of the issue before. In my Marvel Tales #16 review, I said that the “soon-to-be defunct Human Torch-style storytelling” was “limping along” and that the Thor series was “flowering.” Here, though, the Torch story uses that storytelling style to great effect. Thor, on the other hand, aspires to grandeur but is, at this point, still mired in that early-60s storytelling.

Overall Rating

Add a so-so Spidey story and we’ve got the same rating we had last time: three and a half webs.

Footnote

Where were we? Oh yeah, Spidey appears to be six inches high and at Mysterio's mercy. Let's get back to that in ASM #67.