Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #113

"The Coming of Plantman!" by Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel & Dick Ayers
(October 1963)

Jerry Siegel's second and final issue of Strange Tales dumps the incredible amount of dialogue of the previous story in favor of a simpler set-up, a lot of plant puns, and teen angst. This issue's villain is Plantman, a former gardener who has invented a device to amplify the IQ of plants; when the device is hit by lightning, he is able to bring plants to sentience and turn them into his slaves. Mainly he uses them to rob his former employer and annoy the Human Torch.

Plantman's former employer, however, is the rich father of Johnny Storm's new girlfriend, which is more or less how they cross paths. The story balances out the superheroics with Johnny's burgeoning relationship with Doris Evans.

Doris is an unusual girl for Johnny to take an interest in. She's haughty and snooty, but she's also completely unimpressed by his career as the Human Torch. That alone makes it surprising that he would date her at all, because the one thing we know for a fact that Johnny craves is adoration. She doesn't want him flaming on around her, and--indignity of indignities--she even makes him drive the speed limit! Johnny doesn't know if she really likes him for him, or is putting on a show "so I'll think she's different from the other babes."

Nevertheless, he intervenes when Plantman frames Doris' father as a thief. He finds Plantman causing, the author assures us, pandemonium in Central Park. (Actually, he's just making a tree throw a cop around and causing poison ivy to jump out at people.) The fight scene is... well, here's a brief play by play:

Plantman whirls a bunch of leafs at Johnny to annoy him, then makes a tree uproot itself to fall on Johnny (it misses), then puts out his flame with damp seaweed (in the middle of Central Park), drops a bunch of acorns on him, and then attempts to dump a vat of water (that appears out of nowhere) on Johnny, which is apparently his big finishing move. Guys, it's not like Johnny's allergic to water. It's not like acid. He can still fight if he's wet, he just can't burst into flames. (Oh, Johnny: take a self-defense class, okay? Also, you're made of flames and you're fighting a guy who controls kindling. Think it through, man.)

Johnny sends up one last fireball, which makes the plants start to dry out, so they revolt and break Plantman's little device, no longer sentient or under his control. Plantman escapes and vows revenge, which is almost... I mean, it was kind of adorable that he really thought he was some kind of a super villain because he could throw acorns and leaves at the Human frigging Torch.

Come back, Paste Pot Pete! All is forgiven!

Other observations:

:: In this issue, we're asked to believe that a plant leaf can enter a keyhole, take the shape of the key, and turn the lock, all without ripping itself to shreds. Also, be careful, because if you open your wall-safe in front of a flower too many times, it will remember your combination and be able to open the safe itself.

:: After Johnny's first confrontation with Plantman--in which he makes tree roots grab the Torch and hold him down--Johnny decides it would be better not to tell anyone (including, ostensibly, his super-scientist friend Reed Richards, who does shit like this as a hobby) because they might think he's crazy. Johnny, baby... have you been paying attention to your own career? I mean, what's weirder--sentient plants or a Super-Skrull?

:: Plantman is really, really optimistic about what he's going to be able to do with his new power. There are billions and billions of plants, so "Today, Earth! Tomorrow, the stars!!" That's... wow, that's delusional. I mean, the first time an army comes in with a flamethrower and a plow, what's your next play? Ain't no plants on the moon, pard!

:: This issue's artist--and the artist or inker on many of the 87 issues of Marvel Comics I've talked about before (and many others besides and yet to come) is Dick Ayers. Sadly, Mr. Ayers passed away two days ago. Craig Yoe and Steven Thompson have a nice tribute to him here. I've been enjoying his work immensely for the last few months, and I thank him for that.

Next time: the Soviets' own version of Iron Man.

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