Thursday, March 06, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #95

"The Demon Duplicators!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(August 1963)

Oh, this period in Thor's history... the Robert Bernstein period is one we just need to put our heads down and get through. This is the kind of silly nonsense that gives comics their reputation as silly nonsense. There are a lot of outlandish things going on here, even for a comic about a guy who can change into a Norse god.

The main thrust of the issue is that Donald Blake has invented an android and arranged for it to be demonstrated by a colleague, Professor Zaxton. That way he can show up as Thor and show the android's resilience and strength, but when Professor Zaxton short circuits the android by accidentally pressing all of the android's controls at once, it's lucky Thor is on hand to use his hammer to throw the android far into the sky where he explodes without harming anyone. (Bonus: it's always hilarious seeing Thor tie someone or something to his hammer and just hurl it away.)

When Dr. Blake returns to his office, he finds Zaxton already waiting for him. Zaxton demonstrates a duplication machine he's made, and which he wants to use to create duplicate people. When Blake refuses to help, Zaxton says he's kidnapped Jane Foster. Donald Blake briefly considers turning into Thor, but apparently that would violate his code of never harming another person except in self-defense, though I don't really see how... and anyway, after the machine is actually finished, Blake does turn into Thor in order to stop Zaxton. But now that Zaxton can duplicate people, he duplicates Thor and the two Thors fight. He even duplicates Thor's hammer to give Duplicate Thor a second hammer.

Oh, and also, when the machine duplicates someone, it gives them the opposite personality to the original, so that's why they're immediately fighting. Oy, this story.

The big action climax is that Duplicate Thor's hammers don't have any effect on Thor. He throws them both at Thor, who has braced himself for the impact, and the hammers just bounce of off him. I thought the story would take the out and say that Zaxton couldn't duplicate the enchantment, but apparently he can. This machine is revolutionary! The reason the duplicate hammers don't work is that Duplicate Thor, being evil, is not worthy of the power of Thor, as per Odin's inscription. So... he can swing, throw, lift the hammers, and even use them to fly after Thor, but... I don't know, this whole thing's a mess, guys. Thor realizes that and turns his attentions to Professor Zaxton.

(The Duplicate Thor? Never mentioned again. Doesn't appear on panel. No reference is made. It's like he never existed.)

Thor heads for Zaxton, who makes a duplicate of himself to confuse Thor, and then falls over a railing and off a bridge, smashing his machine and himself. Thor feels a little bad about it, but decides that we can all just pretend that Duplicate Zaxton--who is "good," because the duplicating machine reverses the original's nature--is the real Zaxton and we won't mention this ever again.

Except there's a duplicate Thor who is MIA. Oh, and also Zaxton duplicated an airliner "dozens" of times to impede Thor, and there's no mention about all of the extra planes and, presumably, the dozens of duplicates of all the people on board those planes. Those never get mentioned at all. Just like the time Thor nuked China, this an implication we're just never going to deal with or mention ever again.

This story, guys. This stupid story.

Other mentions:

:: Jane Foster doesn't appear in this story. She didn't appear in the previous story, either, and in fact Robert Bernstein hasn't really used her very much since he started writing the series (off of Stan Lee's plots) back in Journey Into Mystery #92. There's only one more Bernstein story before Stan takes over writing duties, but the whole time Bernstein's been scripting he's pretty much sidelined Jane. It's a shame because Jane's personality really needs to be developed, and Larry Lieber made sure that we knew that one of Thor's dilemma's is that he loves Jane but can't be with her.

Also, it's weird that even though the plot sort of hinges on Jane being a prisoner, we don't see her at all. She gets one panel of Thor rescuing her and telling her Zaxton's reawwy sowwy and to let it go.

:: This story's framing device has Thor returning to Asgard to make rain for the crops. Apparently, Asgard has droughts. I never thought about that. This is really the first time I've gotten the sense that visiting Asgard isn't just a giant chore for the God of Thunder, but this also the first time we've really seen him there where it wasn't all about chasing down Loki. "If I were not so used to mankind, I would gladly dwell in this dimension forever!" On behalf of mankind, thank you for describing us as part of the daily routine you've resigned yourself to! I'm going to use that on my anniversary this year. "Darling wife, I've gotten so used to you..."

:: Dr. Blake's android isn't really very good. Professor Zaxton says they could make an army of invincible androids, since it withstood a blow from Thor's magic hammer, but then the thing can be easily short-circuited by its own remote control panel? Back to the drawing board, you two. Also, the key to genius is apparently just programming an android with a pre-set IQ of 375. You can program a machine to learn, but just setting the IQ level where you want it is new to me. Ah, Marvel science. Honestly, though, it's too bad about the short circuit, because I'd love to see this self-aware, talking, super smart android (who needs to be controlled by a handheld panel) just start solving complex equations and fighting Doctor Doom. I guess he kind of prefigures the Vision (he's even colored green!). Still, Zaxton and Blake taking something with that much potential and deciding to just make soldiers out of it is depressing.

I forgot to mention, if it weren't obvious: Zaxton overloaded the android on purpose, out of--his word--jealousy.

:: Joe Sinnott is drawing Thor's hammer with a very long handle in this story. I would estimate the handle here at something like two feet in length.

:: "I thought you were an honorable man, Zaxton! But now I see there's a strain of evil in you!" Zaxton's motivation? He wants "total, absolute power!"

:: At one point during the fight, Zaxton duplicates an office building to impede Thor's path. The Odinson smacks headfirst into it.

It's not supposed to be, but it's hilarious.

:: By the way, Thor is clearly flying in this issue. He might as well be Superman. It's already been established that he doesn't fly, he hurls the hammer and it drags him behind it.

A long post for a filler story, but there was just so much to mention in this one. Bernstein's Thor is just not good. I can't wait for things to pick up. Or at least for the "Tales of Asgard" feature to start.

Next time: the Human Torch faces a walking carcinogen and the first appearance of Baron Mordo.

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