Friday, September 06, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #102

"Prisoner of the Wizard" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(November 1962)

The Wizard is probably my favorite of Johnny Storm's solo villains. His arrogance will always be his undoing, but up until that happens he's just so wonderfully arrogant in that comic book/cartoon villain tradition. (It's also cool that Kirby draws him like a caricature of John Carradine; it only adds to the over-the-top fun quality of the villain and the stories. Hey, I just realized... Hulk looks like Karloff, the Wizard looks like Carradine, and the Puppet Master looks like Peter Lorre... neat.)

You can tell the Wizard's got a lot of hubris right off the bat, as he and not the Human Torch is the one who initiates the action and pulls us into the story. See, the Wizard is called that because he's a genius, and he's not afraid to say so. He's apparently become something of a celebrity because of his amazing inventions. Not only is he an inventor, he's also an escape artist and an international chess champion.

There's no limit to how highly the Wizard prizes his intellect and his achievements.

Check out his cool ultra-modern pad:

So when he sees a newsreel of the Human Torch saving the amusement park from the Destroyer (from the previous issue), the Wizard decides that it would be the ultimate achievement if he were to defeat the Human Torch.

The Wizard elaborately stages an accident that seems to put him in peril, knowing the Torch will rescue him. Feigning gratitude, he invites the Torch over for a tour of his home and to see his inventions. The Torch gladly accepts, and when he gets there he finds himself doused in flame retardant chemicals and trapped in an asbestos room (the appearance of all these carcinogens just keeps making me cringe). The Wizard uses his genius to be able to go masquerading as the Human Torch so he can discredit the superhero.

(Part of the Wizard's impersonation is dousing flames over an asbestos suit... I feel a lot of the time like Marvel simply didn't know how asbestos worked and just figured it was magic.)

The Wizard robs a bank while disguised, but he also just generally acts like a jerk, pushes people around, and performs acts of petty vandalism like melting a statue. That kind of silly rampage comic book villains were always going on, decades before they were raping heroes' wives and getting lobotomized for the greater good... *shiver*

Anyway, the Torch does eventually get free and fools the Wizard into thinking his powers are greater than they are through some subterfuge arranged by Sue Storm. It is a little ridiculous that Johnny doesn't just flame off and fight the Wizard for photographic evidence that exonerates him, because then the Wizard would know his secret identity. (Again, Strange Tales has weirdly forgotten that the Fantastic Four are international celebrities, which gets resolved later.)

And so the Wizard tastes defeat.

It's a fun little story. Not essential or a lost classic, but a fun story.

Next time: the Ant-Man busts a jewel thief and we pretend that's exciting.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

I get the impression that, before they found out about its harmful properties, asbestos basically WAS considered magical.