Thursday, December 19, 2013

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #41

"The Stronghold of Doctor Strange!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(May 1963)

No, not that Doctor Strange, just some guy who wants to conquer the world with his gadgets. I appreciate the early stab at giving Tony Stark a villain who's the opposite of him--a mechanical genius who wants to use his work to subjugate humanity rather than benefit it--but the character just has nothing interesting about him, and I wonder why they didn't just use a villain already established in the Marvel Universe.

In typical Robert Bernstein style, Doctor Strange is able to break out of the prison he's being in held in because he already knew that Iron Man was going to appear at a nearby hospital to entertain children. Somehow. Well, how doesn't matter, because that would introduce logic, which would get in the way of this lazily-written story. What's important is that Doctor Strange knew it was going to happen, and he prepared for it in advance. Tony Stark arranged for this, but didn't actually announce it was going to happen until the night before, while attending a charity benefit, so I don't know how Doctor Strange is hearing about it.

The benefit itself sort of goes on for pages, by the way, mainly because it's an early issue, and for anyone who missed the first two, we have to reestablish who Anthony Stark is and why he's so awesome and why he's got to brush off his date, who is basically trying to catch him so she can marry him. It's poorly weaved in, though, because someone's bright idea was to have Stark tell his date all of the reasons he has no time to get married--managing munitions plants, scientific research, US defense tests--while also thinking to himself about how busy he is as Iron Man, and as a result, it's basically like he's telling his date "Sorry, babe, but I'm just to awesome to let some dame tie me down." Stark's a lot of things, but likable isn't really one of them yet. Neither is humble. (This takes up three and a half pages of a 13-page story.)

So, Doctor Strange: "Not for nothing have I been called the Master of Evil," he says, as though we're supposed to be impressed by this unimposing character we've never seen before. Sorry, but no one's the Master of Evil in a world where Doctor Doom exists (although the world still thinks he shrank into nothingness way back in Fantastic Four #10). But still, this guy's small time, and his attempts to be grand are just weird, embarrassing, and lazily written. The Wizard could outsmart this guy.

His guards even fall for that thing where he pretends to be sick, and then he somehow uses this thing he made out of transmitters or something to hypnotize Iron Man and make Iron Man break him out of prison. Part of the problem I'm having with this story is that Stan Lee or Larry Lieber would have thrown in something that at least sounded reasonably scientific. In Bernstein's dialogue, Strange keeps referring to his invention as a "contraption," which is a word you use when you have no idea what something is. Why am I supposed to be intimidated by a "Master of Evil" who can't even describe what he's created?

Out of nowhere, Strange's motivation turns out to be that he both wants to rule the world and impress his daughter Carla. Now, here I thought they were really going to introduce a plot complication by having Carla turn out to be Tony's date from the night before. Tony kept calling her "honey" and "doll" in a way that I found sexist and not charming, but I figured, alright, it's clumsy, but they did it for the plot, so you'd be surprised when his daughter Carla turns out to be Tony's date. Hope. She's just some other woman. Doctor Strange takes her to live on his island with his cronies, "the most cunning scientists and power-mad military men on earth!" Just... shut up, man. This is like a five year-old wrote it.

Anyway, he holds the planet hostage with nuclear weapons, but Iron Man tunnels up under the island because Doctor Strange's force field doesn't extend under water, and Iron Man knocks out the source of his power, but all of Iron Man's energy drains, but Carla helps Iron Man recharge with a couple of D batteries out of a flashlight, and Doctor Strange forgives his daughter because he loves her and then escapes somehow. All in the last two pages.

I talked about it more than I planned, but this story sucks. I don't think Doctor Strange ever comes back, either, which I'm more than fine with.

Notes:

:: I dig the demonstration Iron Man gives to the kids at the hospital as a much more organic, in-story way to show off some the suit's abilities, like boot-jets and magnets that allow him to juggle cars.

He also catches and crushes a cannonball fired out of a cannon.

:: Not a big fan of Kirby's art in this issue. I mean, it's fine--jeez, it's Kirby--but I miss what Don Heck was doing. He gave it this whole Robert McGinnis spy novel kind of feel that's more suited to the character. Or, really, what the character eventually becomes.

Next time: Ant-Man gets old.

2 comments:

MC said...

...which is ironic since Paul Rudd seemingly doesn't age.

SamuraiFrog said...

Ha!