Thursday, April 10, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales Annual #2

"On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko
(September 1963)

There's not much to this story, but it's cute, and the creatives try to make this one a fun number. It all begins with Johnny Storm throwing a bit of a tantrum about how Spider-Man is getting much more press than the Human Torch is. (I don't know why Johnny's jealous of Spidey's media attention; most of it is J. Jonah Jameson screaming about what a menace Spidey's supposed to be!) He wants a chance to prove that Spider-Man isn't so great, and he gets his chance when a thief called the Fox steals a priceless Da Vinci painting and frames Spidey for the crime.

Spider-Man decides his best chance is to head to Glenville and ask the Human Torch for help, figuring he'll be open to teaming up since they're both teenagers. Of course, they're also both arrogant and hot-headed, so the two end up in that great tradition of superhero meetings: they fight each other. It looks good, what with the extra room (20 pages for this story instead of the usual 13), so Stan & Jack can really showcase the two.

They fight, and the Torch chases Spidey off. Then Spidey's able to stop the Torch and try to talk to him, but the Torch ain't listening and Spidey takes off. It's not until Inspector Rudd lets Johnny go through some mugshots that he decides Spider-Man may be telling the truth, and the two finally team up to track down the Fox. Which they do. And they capture him.

Like I said, it's a fun story but there's not much to say about it. It's slight, but the banter's enjoyable and it sets the tone for what will end up being decades of Spider-Man team-ups.

Stray observations:

:: This is technically only the second time the Torch and Spider-Man have met (the first was in Amazing Spider-Man #1), and the first time they've worked together. Stan's trying to establish a rivalry between the two, what with the both of them being teenage boys who sometimes act exactly as childishly as teenage boys do. They did actually meet briefly in Amazing Spider-Man #3 when Johnny Storm spoke at Peter Parker's high school, but Peter only spoke to Johnny out of costume. (In that issue, Peter clearly admired Johnny.)

:: The story treats Inspector Rudd of the Glenville Police as someone that the Human Torch knows and has probably worked with before, as though he's Commissioner Gordon to the Torch's Batman. Neat idea; too bad this is his only appearance. Same with the Fox; he's never heard from again. The second Johnny pulls his mugshot out of the box, he says "The Fox! Why didn't I think of him before?!! This has all the trademarks of one of his capers!" But we've never seen him before and we'll never see him again, so... well, I'll take your word for it, Johnny.

:: Spidey uses his spider-sense to track down the location of the Fox's hideout, again using it as though it were a radar, like in Amazing Spider-Man #1. I'm not really a fan of that.

I'm also not really a fan of the spider-signal, but that's a dynamic panel.

What a showman!

:: The Fox tries to zip away from Spidey and the Torch on a set of rocket skates, but Spider-Man's too fast. He tells the amazed Fox, "They don't call me Spider-Man for nothin', chum!" Not sure what that's supposed to mean, exactly, but all's well that ends well.

:: There's been a growing consensus in the letters pages of various comics that Jack Kirby doesn't draw Spider-Man as well as Steve Ditko, and that Ditko doesn't draw the Fantastic Four as well as Kirby. I figure that must be part of the decision to have Ditko ink this story; trying to preserve both styles. For what it's worth, I think Dick Ayers also draws a great Human Torch. But I do think no one else at Marvel in 1963 had a handle on Spidey the way Ditko did.

:: I am a little sorry that there's no Doctor Strange story in here, what with the extra room.

:: That said, wow, 76 pages for a quarter! This issue reprints no less than 10 shorts as a follow-up to the main event, only one of which is even from an issue of Strange Tales. The other 9 are from some of the company's late 1950s anthology science fiction books, Strange Worlds and World of Fantasy. My favorite is "I Am Robot," from 1958's Strange Worlds #1, which is a little derivative of Asimov, but the kind of story I'm a sucker for. According to the Grand Comics Database, the story was penciled by Bob Powell and inked by Joe Sinnott, but they don't know who the writer is.

This was a fun issue, and part of what's been a very good month (for the most part).

Next time: a Human Torch story by Jerry Siegel!

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