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Young vs. Old Part II: Spider-Man and the Terrible Debut of the Tinkerer

Well well! So teacher’s pet is gonna help the nice little doctor with some experiments this week-end, eh? While us other dumbheads waste time having dates and livin’ it up – FLASH THOMPSON

Journey Into Marvel – Part 83

Extremites, the Tinkerer’s, the antagonist of the B-Story in the second issue of Amazing Spider-Man, conflict is the same as the Vulture. It is based on age.

Zzzaaap. Zzzap

Zzzaaap. Zzzap

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Young vs. Old Part I: The Debut of Spider-Man’s Vulture

Nothing I like better than taunting my enemies! – The Vulture.

The Vulture vs. Spider-Man

The Vulture vs. Spider-Man

Journey Into Marvel – Part 82

Extremites, Spider-Man’s age defines him. Most of his early conflicts centre around some disparity with age. This  is clear in this story where Vulture, Spider-Man’s first super powered villain, debuts.

Like Vulture, J. Jonah is out of step with the youth and wants to see their kind erased from the face of New York. His outrageous vendetta against Spider-Man is unexplained; it just is. In last issue Spider-Man saved his son from certain death. He should be grateful to him. Peter Parker decides to sell pictures of Spider-Man to triple J.  Peter Parker is in this game for personal gain. Read the rest of this entry

Saying Good-Bye to the First Hulk: Examining the Failure of the Incredible Hulk Line

Journey Into Marvel – Part 77

You will surrender this entire base to me immediately, and the planet Earth itself must accept me as supreme ruler within twenty-four hours! – The Metal Master

Steve Ditko's Hulk

Steve Ditko’s Hulk

Extremites, all good things come to an end. The mediocre confused things also do that too. This is the last issue of the first Hulk line. The first Hulk had a tough go at it and today’s issue shows why the Hulk failed the first time.
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How the Debut of Amazing Spider-Man Signalled a Coming Change At Marvel

Journey Into Marvel – Part 61

The Official First Spider-Man

The Official First Spider-Man

Extremites, up until now — aside from the tangent into 1963 when I couldn’t find the early issues — we’ve been progressing through the Marvel universe chronologically. The Marvel Universe doesn’t work like this. Some issues and stories occur before each other; regardless of date. This is why Amazing Spider-Man #1, which is issued March 1963, happens here even though my last review was issued December 1962.

SO TO SPIDER-MAN! Read the rest of this entry

Spider-Man: The Amazing Geek Fantasy

Journey Into Marvel – Part 43

The fateful spider bite that gave Peter Parker...

The fateful spider bite that gave Peter Parker his powers. Amazing Fantasy #15, art by Steve Ditko. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Extremites, I am sure you were like me: when you suffered the endless torture that was adolescence: you secretly wanted to be a superhero. You wanted to stretch out those gangly mismatched arms and smack those bullies into their own stupefaction. You wanted to clobber their asses. You wanted to uh…. Iron their uh… man.

Well, maybe not the last one but you get my point.

Teenagehood was hard. Especially for those who found themselves on the wrong side of high school. You know, the side that never gets a romantic partner or seems to become victimized for the clothes they wear or their affinity for reading or, in my case, my love affair with the theatre.

Probably, like me, you found your solace in realms of fantasy. Naturally, this need for fantasy led to comics. I assume it led to comics because you are here.

However, I don’t think comics were originally intended as ‘escapes for the disenfranchised teen.’ Take a look at Batman: he’s a rich playboy who gets all the girls and then goes on murderous rampages at night. That’s a character that is hard to sympathize with and one that doesn’t necessarily reflect those who read him. Sure, his parents are dead, and that’s sad, but his house is gorgeous and women love him.

What about Superman, his alter ego is a nerd, right?

No. Wrong.

Clark Kent is a character Kal-El puts on. He’s not really a marginalized person. Clark is just a person who looks nerdy because of some glasses. He’s just an alien pretending to be nerdy.

You’ll find these problems throughout the comic book medium. Unless, of course you have already encountered Spider-Man.

When Spider-Man debuted, in 1962, he was a wholly original super character. There was no direct DC counterpoint to Pete Parker as there had been, up to this point, with most of the new creations at Marvel. Pete was incredibly unique.

If you have followed this series on the regular you will have noticed that I often claim that the Human Torch is a forerunner to Spider-Man. This is accurate in regard to the fact they are both teenagers, and young sarcastic men, but it is inaccurate in regards to their social standing. Johnny is a popular daredevil type that functions as a kind of class clown, whereas Pete is a “bookworm.” He’s a young man who, rather then socializing, prefers to study his quiet pursuits. Naturally, this makes him the butt of anti-intellectual bullies like Flash Thompson.

Reading Spidey’s debut I am surprised to see the similarities of Johnny Storm to Flash.  He’s brash, thinks he is the most interesting guy in the room and also smarmy as hell. Flash is introduced in the first panel accosting Peter because a girl invited him out to dance. This is uncalled for abuse, not unlike the relentless abuse Torch hurls at Ben Grim in every issue. Torch is a bully. Flash is a bully. This is important.

The originality of Spider-Man

The originality of Spider-Man

What sets Peter Parker apart from the rest of Marveldom is that he understands what it’s like to be the little guy in the room. The guy that everyone picks on just because he dares to both think differently and be different. This explains why, after Pete gets bitten by a radioactive spider, he doesn’t immediately go on either a rampage or a justice fuelled quest. Rather, he becomes a wrestler to make some cash. Peter seeks out both applause and recognition for being ‘amazing.’ This is the ultimate goal of one who is marginalized in the teenage world, at least it was for me. Peter just wants to be loved, I just wanted to be loved.

In other articles, I have also suggested that the Human Torch’s solo adventures served as a kind of experiment to the youth oriented Amazing Spider-Man. That is not entirely correct, either. This debut predates the solo Strange Tales features, but it is not an official solo debut. Though Stan Lee and Steve Ditko intended for Spidey to be a bimonthly feature, they never thought that he would get his own focused title. He was meant to head the Amazing Fantasy title. Because of this story Spider-Man inspired a major fan response that led Marvel to pick him up on to a bimonthly solo title.

His sudden popularity stems from two aspects of the debut: first, the inherent relatability of the character and, second, his originality.

Out of the already presented heroes: Hulk and Fantastic Four — Ant-Man doesn’t count because his debut was not intended to be an origin story— Peter Parker is most like the readers.

Sure, I am generalizing some here, as there were plenty of readers who were both adult and female, but the nerdy male was a huge buying crowd, especially for the still niche Marvel comics. Peter Parker is a reflection of those readers. He is not always defined by idealism, like Superman or Batman, and he has a penchant to be petty. Notice the selfishness when Peter uses his newfound abilities to make cash before using it for good. It is not until he suffers his own  variation on the Batman origin story that he realizes the great power he possesses.

The Uncle Ben vendetta motivation that fills the bulk of this story; but, unlike the later retellings, Ben’s death is given one passing panel where a police officer describes how a criminal killed him. The vagary of the narrative is the result of an ethics code of the period that meant the story could not show death unless it be of an alien or some other clearly nonhuman character.

The Uncle Ben story is what makes Spider-Man so very original. Peter Parker causes Uncle Ben’s death. It’s an indirect causation, but it is causation none-the-less. This is what separates Peter from Bruce Wayne. Little Bruce did not make Joe Chill kill his parents. Spider-Man allowed a criminal to pass him by who later went on to kill his beloved Uncle. This is unique among the superhero world, thus far, and that, wrapped up with Spidey’s relatability, turned Spider-Man’s rather unassuming debut into a massive fan explosion.

There we have it.

Spider-Man is now on the scene and I can finally talk about the early days of the Marvel Universe, accurately.

Extremites, rather then continue to do what I have been doing in this series, jumping ahead to issues further in the Silver Age and off setting that by returning to the issues I missed early on because of my inability to find them, I am just going to continue ahead with these missed issues and finish them before going into 1964

Don’t be annoyed if I cover some familiar territory. I promise I’ll get to Daredevil, eventually, but it’s wrong of me to ignore the work of 1962/ Winter 1963 for more popular characters like X-Men and Daredevil.

With that I leave today’s journey here.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read:Spider-Man” (Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug. 1962)

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.

Pros: The excellent realness of Peter Parker, the coherent simple storyline, the unexpected originality.

Cons: Flash Thompson feels two dimensional because he is. This remains a problem for the next many Spider-Mans.

Previous Review:The Terror of the Toad Men” (The Incredible Hulk #2, July 1962)

Upcoming Review:The Stone Men From Saturn” (Journey Into Mystery #83, Aug 1962)

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The Anti-Marvel Hero: Inside Dr. Strange’s Silver Age Spiritual Debut

By: Julian Munds

The Battle on the Extra-plain.

The Battle on the Extra-plain.

If you follow these articles on the regular, you may have noticed an absence of Dr. Strange. There is a very good reason for this, as in 1963, Dr. Strange was still not fully considered part of Earth-616 continuity.

I’ve only written one article to date about him. By November 1963 there had been about four full stories published featuring the Doctor. Only two of which Marvel considers proper continuity. The others were retconned.

Dr. Strange was considered experimental in his earlier publications which made his stories rather short and frankly… a tad weird.

In November, Dr. Strange was officially brought on as a Strange Tales companion publication to the solo adventures of Johnny Storm because of enormous positive fan feedback. This story was his first official and non-oneoff exhibition tale.

Dr. Strange is extraordinarily different then the other lead characters presented in the Silver Age.

He is not a public figure. He prefers to operate in the dark underbelly of the supernatural world. For example Strange’s first panel was set in a dark, dingy, occult store off a dank alley in New York’s Greenwich village.

Every other character has some public persona, whether it is literal fame; like the Fantastic Four, or notorious fame like Spider-Man or Hulk.

No one seems to know that Dr. Strange exists until he appears.

All of the other characters of Marvel, thus far, are either scientists themselves or the results of science. The Fantastic Four, especially Mr. Fantastic, utilizes his scientific ingenuity to cross obstacles. Banner/Hulk is both a scientist and a scientific accident. Spider-Man, too, is a science experiment gone awry. Hank Pym and Iron Man are examples of scientific ingenuity at its best. Even Thor, who does rely on his supernatural strength, is both a medical doctor and a scientist when he is Don Blake.

Strange, however, is entirely supernatural. He exists by a mythos that relies on a ‘spiritual understanding,’ meaning that his mythos is built on faith. I know I am nitpicking here, as I am dealing with fiction: Strange’s fiction is more absurd.

The tangibility of the mythos caused some clarity issues in the first two debuts. A lot of the action in those earlier issues were dependent on a kind of “because I said so” explanation.

In this issue, however, we get an explanation of the extra dimension and how Strange manipulates magic. I.E. The paneling that explains how a white candle can be used as a trap.

Even the idea of astral projection, which is a major mechanism of the plot, is explained by an advanced “pseudo-manipulate” technique of the mind that somehow Strange has learned. Through the X-Men, we are already familiar with the difference between learned talents and inherent talents, particularly because of Professor X.

The supernatural seems less absurd. This is because Stan Lee and Steve Ditko clearly want to create a character that has a future. Absurdity is great for a one off, but not a stream of events.

The realm of the supernatural has never been a place for the heroes of Marvel.

So far, the only characters that have been associated with magic are Loki and Dr. Doom. Loki strives to dominate all things magical. He does this by manipulating other people by using the laws of magic to make characters act against themselves. Dr. Doom, who is far less powerful then the Asgardian, seeks to attain this power.

Strange, on paper, makes far more sense as a supervillain. For example, in this issue when Baron Mordo traps Strange, with a white candle, the Doctor mentally manipulates a young girl to come to his rescue. He telepathically takes away her will.

Is this really the act of a hero?

Strange, much like Doom, seeks to be the master of his craft. Baron Mordo stands in his way.

I wrote a lengthy article that talked about selfishness being the true trait of a villain and Strange/Mordo both share this trait. Both seem to be acting in their self interests. There is no greater calling to protect Earth or even another character.

Strange exists on the fringes of the established world (Earth 616) and thereby bends traditional Marvel tropes. These two (Mordo and Strange) exist beyond good and evil; making Strange into a kind of anti-hero.

The evil of the story is represented by Baron Mordo who returns to act as yang to Strange’s yin.

The master plan of Mordo.

The master plan of Mordo.

Mordo pretends to be an old friend of Strange and this coaxes him into a trap.

Mordo and Strange fight on the extra-plain for dominance and use a plethora of different spells against each other. Strange uses the power of non-magicals to save himself and this is Mordo’s weakness. Mordo doesn’t see the worth of normal humans.

A very …. almost ‘X-Men like’ theme.

Steve Ditko and Stan Lee have made the mythos far simpler to understand. As a result, this story doesn’t feel as whacked out psychedelically as the others. Whereas I left the prior stories confused, this one I left excited for what’s to come.

Strange’s stories feel episodic as if they are stepping stones in a larger arc. Most of the other hero’s issues are self contained tale. This endless arc makes Strange’s issues fantastically titilating.

I don’t much mind the lack of clarity as to how they work into the larger Marvel world. I trust that this will be explained further down the road. This is only Dr. Strange’s third feature, so I am excited to see how he evolves from here.

Journey Into Marvel

Story I Read:Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo” (Strange Tales #114 Nov. 1963)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: Clarity in plot. Basic character development for Strange. Moral ambiguity.

Cons: There is still a lot of the narrative that relies of Faith. ‘Oh I am trapped by this candle because Mordo says so.” Their is still no discussion of why this is and what is the nature of the extra-plain.

Previous Review:The Human Torch… Meets Captain America” (Strange Tales #114 Nov. 1963)

Upcoming Review:Challenged by the Human Cobra!” (Journey Into Mystery #98 Nov. 1963)

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The Strangeness of Dr. Strange


Journey Into Marvel – Part III

Story I Read: “Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo” (Strange Tales #111 Aug 1963)

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

Discussion of the mythology of this world is hard to launch into because the rules of the world are still heavily in flux.

Let’s give it the old college try, shall we?

The conflict involves Baron Mordo poisoning the Master in an effort to gain information about the dark arts. Strange stops him through some dream trickery and some fancy conspiracy with an amulet. All this takes place in five pages. Perhaps, this brevity, is the reason this story feels impotent and is most indecipherable.

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

Mordo is special because, not only is this Strange’s supreme nemesis, the yin to his yang for the next 50 years, but it’s also that this is only the second tale and a major nemesis is introduced. In the contemporary Marvel heroes of the time, it took many issues of one offs before their major nemeses were introduced. This early introduction must be because the creatives had a future plan intoned for the Doctor. Little is offered up front in origin, because it will be expanded upon in a future story. The ‘Slow Burn’ as it is known.

ST111 - Battling Mordo

Only three panels to set up Mordo’s back story.

Could this be the first Marvel hero that has a future planned at its conception and wasn’t developed on the fly? We all know how ‘on the fly writing’ may have killed the first incarnation of the Hulk.

The second rather astounding stride fourth is this is the first villain whose goal is death. No bones about it. He holds death, not only defeat, over The Master. Astounding. Reality is, however small, beginning to seep into the Marvel world. If only the motives and action of the story could be understood this would be a fantastic yarn.

As I slog my way through the universe and truly get to know Strange I should reevaluate this story. It just feels that I am missing some part of the narrative.

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

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

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