Sunday, October 06, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #104

"The Human Torch Meets Paste-Pot Pete!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(January 1963)

In one afternoon, Johnny Storm gets repeatedly outsmarted by possibly the most jaw-droppingly lame villain we've seen so far in Marvel Comics. (But stay tuned, Ant-Man fans, because eventually the Porcupine is coming.)

This guy is Paste-Pot Pete. He shoots glue at things. That's it. I mean, he's also a thief, but the glue thing is his shtick. He carries around a rather cumbersome pot filled with paste, which fuels that glue gun he's got there. It's like a flamethrower, but for paste. Paste. And he also dresses like a painter's assistant in the Renaissance. This is like a Danish fairy tale gone wrong.

So, he robs a bank--I think the same bank that the Wizard robbed while disguised as the Human Torch back in Strange Tales #102--and escapes because he can glue people to walls or glue a cop's hand to his sidearm holster or glue police car doors shut or glue peoples' feet to the ground. Apparently this miracle glue hardens pretty quickly.

So, let me just posit this: you've somehow (we don't know how) made a miracle, fast-acting adhesive that is, we see later, strong enough to pull a rocket out of the air and drag it, and your first thought is crime spree? Because my first thought is patent it and license the shit out of it. Think of the industries that can use this thing! And hell, why not the military! Every scientist in the Marvel Universe is working on inventions for the military, why not be the next one? You're going to make more money selling this thing than you ever would robbing banks and committing treason. I mean, he actually comes across as a smart guy--smart enough to outsmart the Human Torch, anyway, which granted is a small victory considering the guy actually once forgot there wasn't any oxygen in outer space. But come on, dude. Don't be a chump like Spider-Man and spend decades scrambling for any job you can while ignoring that you've invented something that would make you a fortune!

What would you rather do? Retire a rich man, or walk around dressed like Hans Holbein's mentally challenged cousin and shoot jizz at cops for a short term payday of probably-marked bills?

(I promise, that's my last off-color joke in a story just begging for them, what with its paste guns and rockets and other brazen symbols.)

Anyway, Pete escapes from the cops and the Torch, then heads right over to a military base where they're test-firing a new rocket, which Pete manages to pluck out of the air with his paste gun and drive off with, determined to sell it to the Russians. When the Torch chases after him, Paste-Pot Pete's reflexes are so "lightning-fast" that he manages to drive this unwieldy semi-truck--which looks like the kind you haul lumber with--so well that he dodges every single one of the Torch's flame spears. So, not only can he make this amazing paste, he can also drive a semi like a stuntman. You are wasting your time on this crime nonsense, pal.

I'll be honest, too: the story dynamics here get away from Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby a bit on this one. So, Pete has fled the military base, and he's got a stolen rocket in his truck, and we even see him take the time to use his glue to pull some lumber over and cross a ditch the Human Torch has burned in his path. The art has made this look like Pete's well out on the open highway by now, but apparently he's somehow still on the military base, even though no one else is trying to stop him. He must still be at the base, though, because when Johnny's flame starts to run out, he starts to fall to the ground, only to have Pete use his paste gun to attach Johnny to another rocket, which then just takes off with Johnny glued to it.

I like that the Human Torch has this weakness: that he can only use his flame for so long before he has to stop and rest. That seems kind of realistic to me, in my dilettantish knows-nothing-about-science way. It seems, I dunno, scientifish.

And there is some genuine suspense with Johnny glued to the rocket; he can barely muster his flame at this point, but he needs to use what little he can to get through the glue without igniting the warhead. When he does free himself, though, I feel like he gets back to Pete and that truck awfully fast. I mean, that rocket went so high you could see the curve of the Earth. They shoot those things almost into space, right?

Melting the truck around Pete (Johnny's really pissed off now), he destroys the paste pot and creates a flaming wall around Pete. He's got him now, right? Nope. Pete uses his last shot to snag a passing jet and gets pulled away. That's right. He can snag onto a plane from the freaking ground, and this guy's wasting this stuff on a crime spree. An unsuccessful crime spree. And then Pete just gets away. He actually has a boat waiting for him. A freaking boat.

So, on the one hand, the guy's kind of a genius. On the other, he's a huge dope.

(Also, was that private jet flying through military airspace? Where they're testing rockets? Come on, Larry, pay attention to what's going on.)

Fun story, though, baffling as it is. Silly in a Scooby Doo sort of way, but entertaining. What I enjoy about these solo Human Torch stories right now is just their gleeful silliness. I mean, they're not intentionally silly, but they also aren't serious or totally dull. They're like a little brother to the Fantastic Four stories--not as ambitious or emotional, not as grand, and they're kind of dumb in an endearing way. I dig them a lot more than, say, Ant-Man.

Speaking of...

Next up: Ant-Man faces a giant, superintelligent beetle.

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