Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #108

"The Painter of a Thousand Perils!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(May 1963)

Johnny Storm's big menace this time around certainly isn't an enemy to rival last issue's epic dust-up with the Sub-Mariner. In fact, he actually makes Paste-Pot Pete look legit. Say hello to Wilhelm Van Vile, an art forger and counterfeiter with magic paint. Yep.

Whatever he paints becomes real and he can control them telepathically. After being busted by the Human Torch for counterfeiting money, Van Vile broke out of prison by tunneling under it and found an underground mural of aliens flying away from Earth. According to the hieroglyphs on the wall--"Similar to ancient Egyptian picture-writing which I've studied!"--the aliens used to use these supernatural paints to travel the universe. And the paints also make the painter paint really fast. And also some was left here by mistake. So Van Vile decides to become a super-criminal. Because all you need is magic paint and some thugs, right?

No, of course not. Van Vile is an idiot and his illusions aren't that great. His big trick here is that he creates paint duplicates of the Fantastic Four and has them kill the Torch (with a grenade!), but--and this is always my least favorite plot device, though it usually happens in Ant-Man stories--the Torch knew about it all along. Apparently he had somehow, off-panel, discovered the secret of Van Vile's paints and managed to paint a duplicate Torch, and that's who was killed by the duplicate FF. So the Human Torch just burns all of the paint and Van Vile goes back to jail.

And nothing of consequence--or entertaining--happened.


:: Johnny shows off some new applications of his powers in this issue, such as melting the asphalt on the road to stop a getaway car, and puffing giant smoke rings around some thieves, which causes them to faint so they can easily be arrested.

:: Van Vile's carelessness is established by showing him being busted in the earlier, art forgery phase of his career. A cop admonishes: "You colored the 'Blue Boy' green!" That's not careless, that's a special kind of obliviousness. Dude, it's right there in the popular name for it!

:: Johnny says he was tipped off to the fake FF because Van Vile was so careless that he didn't even put the number 4 logo on their uniforms. What bugs me here is that it's the sort of thing where you should be able to read that, go back and look, and realize that you missed it, too. Instead, looking back I see Reed and Sue were drawn in a way where their chests were always obscured or not visible. That's cheating. Not a fun story. Skip it and you'll miss nothing.

:: I don't like Robert Bernstein's writing, particularly in this issue. I said earlier that he was moonlighting at Marvel and was mainly a DC writer, and this story is like the worst DC stories of the time, where people just happen to have all of the knowledge they already need for the plot to work, and because of that the plot sort of adds up to nothing because there's no drama and the situation itself is too silly to care about. No drama, no excitement, but things move around and then stop.

Next Marvels: Dr. Strange. No, not that one.

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