I thought this one was going to be easy. There are three stories in the issue and I’ve already reviewed two of them! But then I discovered that my review of the Torch story comes from the days when I wrote very little if Spidey made a very little appearance. These are reviews I’ve thought about going back and extending so maybe this is the time to do it. Fortunately, it’s the last story in the issue so I have a little time to think about how to go about it.
First, let’s look at our cover. It’s pretty much the cover to ASM #23, April 1965 only the image is expanded a bit. This takes away the space between the illustration and the logo that was originally filled with a blurb. Instead, there’s a short “Spidey vs. the Green Goblin! ‘Nuff Said!” shoved below the “Marvel” and next to the “Tales.” It really is a great Ditko cover with webbing swirling around everywhere and Spidey in one of those splayed upside-down poses. This time, there’s a blurb on the pipe from which Spidey is swinging but it’s just one of those Stan-like come-ons. “More Mind-Snapping Marvel Majesty!” And there’s a blurb where the “The M.M.M.S. Wants You” stamp was originally. It touts the Thor and Torch stories but the days when they appeared on the cover (except for the “Marvel Comics Group” box) ended with Marvel Tales #14, May 1968, until a penultimate hurrah on the cover of Marvel Tales #23, November 1969.
Comparing this issue with ASM #23 reminds me of something I almost never mention .In these early Marvel Tales, the reprints are colored differently than the originals. As “Fan of Bronze” put it on a CBR Forum some years back, “From the start, when publishers started saving film, they tended to save only the film for the black plate. They probably figured it would be cheaper to pay colorists for a re-do than to pay for preserving all the film; they were probably right.” The color for the Spidey reprint is pretty close to the original. Not so the Torch story.
We’ve got one of those inside front cover greytone contents pages. (Enjoy it! It’s the second to last one!) The credits list “the Hectic Hierarchy of Marvel-Land!” with Stan as “King of Comics Editors!” Sol as “Prince of Production!” Roy as “Warlord of Word-Balloons!” Jumbo John as “Czar of Corrections!” Sharon Kay as “Princess of the Paint-Pots!” (she did the re-coloring) and Honest Irv as “Kaiser of Kibitzing!” The Spidey illustration is twice as big as the others and is from page 16 panel 8 of his story. The Thor illo is from page 14 panel 4 of his story. The Torch drawing is from page 11 panel 5 of his story.
Right. We lead off with The Goblin and the Gangsters from ASM #23. Let’s see what I said about it back in 2004. “The return of the Green Goblin. Frederick Foswell back working at the Daily Bugle. Spidey fighting gangsters (and giving Aunt May a call in the middle of it). A three-page battle with the Goblin amidst all sorts of pipes and stuff. A letter from Ned Leeds that Peter Parker can't stop thinking about. You need more than that? Not me! This is Stan and Steve back at the top of their form. The first of a short string of all-time great issues.”
And I gave it a well-deserved five webs.
Next, Stan, Jack, and Chic Stone bring us the Mighty Thor in The Cobra and Mr. Hyde! from Journey Into Mystery #105, June 1964 in which the two villains team up for the first time. We start with a meeting of the Avengers. Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp are in attendance. (If we go by the cover dates, this story takes place between Avengers #5, May 1964 and Avengers #6, July 1964.) Stan calls the story a “double-length modern Marvel Masterpiece” and it is 18 pages, up from the 13 pages of the previous Thor episodes. The stories will stay at 18 pages until Journey Into Mystery #110, November 1964 where they will settle into a 16 page setup until Thor #153, June 1968.
The meeting breaks up and Thor flies away. He gets “a strange feeling as though danger is near” (and this is without a spider-sense!) and spies the Cobra climbing on a building’s spire. (The Cobra first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #98, November 1963 which is Marvel Tales #12, January 1968 to you and me.) The Cobra eludes him, then strikes with his “serpent’s sting,” a “specially-designed wrist device” that shoots “three fast-moving delayed-action vials.” The vials first flash “lights of great intensity” that blind Thor. The Cobra grabs him with his “cobra cable,” tugging him towards the ground. But Thor swings his hammer and regains his flight. Somehow, the cobra cable completely disappears but so does the Cobra. He has slipped into an open window where he finds a scientist mixing a potion. “I hope he is a successful scientist with a lot of money in his apartment for me to seize,” thinks the Cobra but who he is is Dr. Calvin Zabo and he drinks his potion when he hears someone behind him, becoming the super-powerful Mr. Hyde. (Hyde appeared in Journey Into Mystery #99, December 1963 and Journey Into Mystery #100, January 1964, reprinted in Marvel Tales #13, March 1968 and Marvel Tales #14, May 1968.) The transformation startles the Cobra, allowing Hyde to attack him. Cobra releases a “nerve gas vial” in Hyde’s face but only slows Hyde for a split-second. As they face off once again, Hyde says, “I’ll fight you to a standstill the way I did with Mighty Thor.” Hearing this, the Cobra suggests they team up against their common enemy.
Recovered from the Cobra’s attack, Thor returns to his Dr. Donald Blake identity and we get a page of Don silently agonizing over his love for Jane Foster and Jane silently agonizing over her love for Don.
Meanwhile, Hyde shows Cobra his latest invention; the Time Reversal Ray. He demonstrates it by pointing at the Cobra. It projects an image (into the air) of the battle that the Cobra just had with Hyde, then moves backward through Cobra’s life. “If we keep watching, it’ll take us back to the time you were born,” says Hyde. (A nifty little device.) They plan to lure Thor out into the open and use the device so they can trace him back to where “he holes up.”
Later, Don Blake turns on the radio to distract him from his distress over Jane Foster going out with another man (about which he learned earlier). The radio issues “an urgent bulletin” that is really of the “too much information” variety, unless they have been paid by Mr. Hyde to attract Thor. “The notorious Mr. Hyde has been sighted in New York! He is attacking a jewelry store at this moment! The window is covered with iron bars, but due to his great strength…” Don changes to Thor and he finds the jewelry store even though the address is the one thing that the radio report didn’t mention.
When Thor arrives, Hyde shoots him with “chemical irritant sprays hidden under [his] shirt.” This distracts Thor long enough for Hyde to run off. When Thor arrives at a crowd of people, he doesn’t find Hyde. That’s because Hyde has changed back to his Calvin Zabo identity. (Though you’d think someone in the crowd would have seen him do it or you’d think he’d still be wearing Hyde’s clothes.) Thor takes to the air to look for Hyde. This is also part of the villains’ plan because Cobra is hidden on a rooftop with the Time Reversal Ray and he fires it at Thor. (This all seems overly complicated. Why doesn’t Hyde just shoot the ray at Thor when he’s breaking into the jewelry store? Because we have to fill 18 pages, probably.) The ray does the trick. They watch as Thor flies back to a window in a building that conveniently has “Dr. Don Blake” written on it along with office hours even though the window is on an upper floor. (Isn’t it?) But the ray stops working once they see Thor fly backward into the window and they don’t know why because they don’t know that Thor disappears when he becomes Don Blake.
So, Thor has returned to the office and become Don again. Still mooning over Jane, he reasons that “if Thor may not marry a mortal girl, Dr. Blake may! All I have to do is give up my other identity” and he gets the brilliant idea to “lock [his] cane in this steel cabinet for a full day!” Just then, of course, the Cobra and Hyde break through the window and grab him. At the same time, Jane decides she’d “rather work in the office with Dr. Blake than go to the most romantic night club with anyone else!” She tells her date, Paul, that she has a splitting headache and he drops her off at the office (because where else would you go when you have a splitting headache?) There, Mr. Hyde grabs her.
Desperate to save Jane, Don pulls a bluff. He tells Hyde that if he takes the walking stick out of the cabinet and taps it on the floor over by the window, that “it’s Thor’s signal” and Thor will appear. Hyde rips the cabinet open and takes the cane to the window. He, Cobra, and Jane all look out the window so that when Don changes to Thor, none of them see it happen. Don becomes Thor because Hyde taps the cane on the floor but I suspect this is the only time that ever works. I’m pretty sure Don needs to hold the cane himself.
Anyway, Don becomes Thor, the cane becomes Mjolnir, and Mjolnir flies back to Thor’s hand. Hyde doesn’t know what happened to the cane. He thinks he must have dropped it out the window. Thor explains that Don tricked them, the he ran to call the police (even though he’s lame) while Thor came in the door behind them. Jane is impressed with Don’s bravery and Thor puts in a little plug for himself. “Blake’s love for you must be greater than you dream!” he says.
The two villains no longer have the upper hand but Hyde tells Cobra to “stick to plan B.” (What was plan A?) They beat it out the now-repaired window (I mean, wasn’t it torn apart by Hyde when they first entered?) and split up. Cobra says that Plan B is to “lure Thor to another place where the odds will be in our favor.” (So, I guess the Time Reversal Ray was Plan A.) Thor chooses to follow Hyde who has made it (pretty damn quickly) to an “Auto Junk Yard.” He activates a “small ultra-wave transmitter” that “will attract the metal in his hammer” to make sure Thor follows him instead of Cobra (I guess). Then he leads Thor to the “Heavy Machinery Show” at the Colosseum.
Thor is reluctant to use his hammer amongst the Colosseum crowd but Hyde isn’t worried about hurting anyone. He starts chucking machinery at Thor. The Cobra sneaks up behind Thor, reasoning, “I have long known that nothing human can lift Thor’s hammer but I suspect that something which is not human, if it has enough power, can do what no living being can do.” So, he uses an “atomic-powered hydraulic hoist” to snatch the hammer from Thor’s hand. (And, fortunately, he knows how to run the giant machine even though he was the assistant to Professor Shecktor, the Albert Schweitzer of India, not an engineer, when we first met him.) The hoist has a “storage compartment” into which the Cobra tucks the hammer and Thor knows that he will turn back into Don Blake in one minute even while he is “facing two of the worst menaces on Earth.” Now, if I was Thor, I would jump up and use my super-strength to rip open that storage compartment and get my hammer before the one minute ran out but, instead, Thor…well, we don’t know what Thor does because the story is continued next issue.
So, the Thor story has expanded from 13 to 18 pages and it’s still continued? That’s what I like to see! Yes, the story has some silly elements but plenty of the Marvel stories from 1964 are like that. This one has the first teaming of the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, the villains figuring out that there is a connection between Thor and Don Blake, Don Blake putting himself in danger because of his love for Jane Foster (a scenario too quickly rectified, unfortunately), and a great cliffhanger. This might be the best Thor story to date. Five webs.
All right, I have decided to do a longer write-up of The Sandman Strikes! but I’m going to put it here instead of there because I think the little review there has a certain charm of its own. But I also noticed that I didn’t bother to write a review of the Dr. Strange story in that issue so I’m going to do that and put it there. If you want to read that, check out Strange Tales #115, December 1963. It’s in the Footnote.
The FF flare signal summons Johnny back to the Baxter Building. There, Reed tells him the Sandman has broken out of jail but that Ben and Sue are “busy working on a detailed report of our Molecule Man case” (from Fantastic Four #20, November 1963) and that he is in the “middle of some new experimentation – trying to find a cure to Alicia’s blindness.” (Spoiler warning: it doesn’t work.) That leaves Johnny to handle the Sandman alone.
Johnny and Reed indulge in a one-page flashback to Spidey’s battle with Sandy in ASM #4, September 1963. As Reed tells it, “at the last minute, Spider-Man found a way to stop his deadly foe! He got hold of an oversized industrial vacuum cleaner…and before Sandman could cause the sandy molecules of his body to solidify, our masked friend whisked him inside the machine, trapping him there. Then, while he was still safely imprisoned within the vacuum’s cannister, he was hustled off to jail, where it was hoped he would remain.” (Johnny objects to Reed calling Spidey our “friend.” “That costumed clown really bugs me!” he says.)
So, apparently, the authorities took the Sandman out of the vacuum cleaner and he did pretty much what you’d expect him to do. After “bid[ing] his time in jail,” he used his abilities to slide through the barred window and escape. Johnny is ready to bring Sandy in but Reed tells him, “I want you to find Spider-Man” to tackle Sandy. Johnny pitches a fit (“Since when does the Human Torch act as a messenger boy for that dim-witted, blister brained, Spider-Man??!” with two question marks and an exclamation point) but Reed orders him to do as he says.
Johnny spends “hours…flying low over the city, combing every neighborhood.” He doesn’t find Spidey but he does find the Sandman crossing the George Washington Bridge, causing traffic accidents. Sandy tells him, “I don’t waste time fightin’ kids! The Spider-Man’s the guy I’m after” and he jumps off the bridge. The police and the Torch search the river but soon give up. Johnny figures Sandy “turned to sand and drifted away” but Sandy never jumped into the water at all. He is clinging “onto the underside of the bridge” in his sandy form. Once the police and Torch leave, he gets back on the bridge and walks away. Where, he presumably causes more traffic accidents.
Meanwhile, the Torch comes up with a plan. “So he won’t fight anybody except Spider-Man, eh? Well, maybe that can be arranged – but not quite the way Sandman expects.”
The next day, Spider-Man “climbs to the top of the Empire State Building” with a bullhorn and calls out the Sandman as a “snivellin’ coward.” Sandman is in a “department store which he plans to rob” and sees the challenge broadcast on one of the store’s televisions (priced at $199.95). Enraged, he goes to the Empire State Building and sneaks up on Spidey from behind. “That blamed ‘spider-sense’ of his must be asleep at the switch!” he thinks, which is most definitely a clue, and he wallops Spidey off the building with an “over-sized, rock-hard fist.” Dazed, Spidey “strives desperately to clear his head.” He does so “just before the impact” and yells out “Flame On!” because he isn’t Spidey at all, of course, but the Torch in a Spider-Man costume. He flies back up to the roof. The Sandman keeps talking about the Torch having no chance against him but he keeps running away. This time he leaps into an elevator shaft marked “Danger.”
It turns out that Sandy has a plan. He wants the Torch to pursue him until his flame grows weak. He settles down at the bottom of the elevator shaft, then travels along an air conditioning duct, waiting outside a vent for the Torch to arrive. Although he misses clobbering him, his plan is working. The Torch’s flame is getting weak.
The Torch lays down a wall of fire but the Sandman taunts him with “You forgot that sand doesn’t burn!” Johnny’s flame then triggers the automatic sprinklers, dousing his flame from the waist down. Still, Johnny dares the Sandman to follow him. When Sandy does, he gets soaked by the sprinklers, turning his sandy body to mud. He can’t change shape until he dries out. ‘But I can still reach out and grab you,” he tells the Torch. “Guess again, mugwump,” says Johnny. ( Mugwump? What is this, 1880s America?)
The Torch drags Sandy completely under the sprinklers. His flame is now out and Sandy figures he “could handle a dozen squirts like you with my eyes closed” but he doesn’t know that Johnny has spent “long hours” with the Thing teaching him “every rough and tumble trick in the book,” that Mr. Fantastic has given him lessons in judo and karate and that he “still has enough excess heat in [his] body to more than double [his] normal strength.” (Like Don Blake becoming Thor when someone else hits his cane on the ground, I suspect that the Torch having greater strength due to his heat is something that was dispensed with long ago.) With that, Johnny picks up the Sandman and spins him dizzy, then knocks him out with one solid punch.
Outside, the web-slinger finally shows up to find the humiliated Sandman being led away by the police. He watches from the shadows and thinks, "I'm glad that flaming freak didn't get clobbered by Sandman, but I don't like the idea of him cutting in on my capers! Sooner or later, this town will be too small for the Torch and me!" But I don’t think that day ever arrives.
In that Strange Tales review, I said, “A solid if unspectacular Silver Age showdown. The Sandman is always entertaining but more fun when he faces the wall-crawler. If you squint while you read it, you can almost pretend it is Spidey in the lead instead of ol' matchhead” I gave it two and a half webs.
So where does this leave us? A five web Spidey story and a five web Thor story plus a two-and-a-half web Torch story averages out to a little over four webs. But that Torch story features the Sandman and a little bit of Spider-Man so I’m going to boost the rating up to four and a half webs.
Let’s say it’s 1969, you haven’t read these stories before and you sit down with this issue. Imagine the pleasure you’d get from one 25¢ book! Those were the days!
Next: Back to the flagship as Spidey tries to “Crush the Kingpin!” in ASM #69, February 1969!