Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #98

"Challenged by the Human Cobra" by Stan Lee & Don Heck
(November 1963)

This one picks up right after the last issue, when Jane Foster left Dr. Don Blake to go work for a rival, out of frustration for, apparently, Blake's unwillingness to sexually harass her and use his position of authority over her to intimidate her into a date. I know, I know, different times. Anyway, Blake is devastated, and has turned into Thor so he can take out his frustrations on the office, beating the shit out of a file cabinet with his magic hammer. He's so pissed, he somehow loses facial integrity and turns into Nicolas Cage.

Oh, welcome new penciler-inker Don Heck. (Sorry, that was meant to be jokey and sounded mean.)

Odin is so touched by Thor's temper tantrum that he calls Thor to Asgard and tries to talk to him gently, but at Odin's suggestion that Thor try to forget Jane, Thor angrily turns his back and walks away. As Dr. Blake, he decides it's time to take a vacation to ease his mind, and books a flight to Bombay, India.

But let's be honest: Thor doesn't need a vacation. What Thor needs is a villain to pummel, and Stan provides us with one: Dr. Klaus Voorhees. He's working in India as the assistant to Professor Shecktor. Jealous that Shecktor is getting all the credit for their discoveries, he attempts to kill Shecktor with a cobra and make it look like an accident. His plan is to let the cobra bite him, too, and then take the snakebite cure he and Shecktor have just invented so that he lives and Shecktor dies.

As chance has it, Shecktor and Blake are old friends, so Blake decides to investigate his accident as Thor. Shecktor explains that he had been experimenting on the cobra, which means that he and Klaus Voorhees were both bitten by a radioactive cobra. Klaus took the antidote, so somehow the combination of all those factors have given him cobra powers. Just like Spider-Man, but somehow more convoluted and arbitrary!

Thor rushes back to America, where Klaus, now calling himself the Cobra, has gone. He's had time to make himself not only a costume, but weapons, including a dart launcher that fires envenomed darts, smoke bombs filled with deadly "cobra gas," and an unbreakable "cobra-cord" that he can wrap around his villains, emulating a completely different kind of snake. So far, the Cobra's "powers" are a bunch of weapons that he's designed and implemented in an astoundingly short amount of time. Also, he can stick to walls, like Spider-Man and has super-speed.

After evading Thor, the Cobra ends up at the offices of Dr. Bruce Andrews, where Jane Foster has started working. This twist is so obvious that Stan even lampshades it in the captions with "Yes, you guessed it! Of all the doctors in the sprawling city of New York..." He needs serums for something or other. Dr. Andrews, terrified, does what the Cobra says, leading Jane to denounce him as a coward and laud Dr. Blake, who "although he is lame and un-glamorous," is a better man than this guy, who is (it should be noted) practicing medicine while wearing a tuxedo.

Thor shows up and saves Jane from the Cobra, but the Cobra escapes. The important thing, though, is that Jane leaves Dr. Andrews' employ and returns to Dr. Blake's office. "We're together again, and that's all that matters!"

Okay, then.

Stray observations:

:: I like how big Don Heck draws the wings on Thor's helmet. Very Fritz Lang.

:: Yet another new outfit for clotheshorse Odin:

He looks like he just got back from the Battle of Verdun.

:: Professor Shecktor looks exactly like the Porcupine.

Makes sense: they were both drawn by Don Heck at about the same time. But I kind of wish they'd used that to cross the characters over or deepen the Porcupine. (Interestingly, the Porcupine, if you remember, had the same motivation: he was frustrated that he didn't get credit for his inventions. I'm surprised the Cobra didn't use the Marvel villain go-to and start using his powers to rob banks.)

:: The Cobra can slither up walls and on ceilings, but for some reason he seems to leave a slime trail after him. Snakes aren't slimy, you guys!

:: "By the beard of noble Odin, oh trusty hammer--STRIKE!" Closer and closer to that flowery Thorspeak.

Not the best story we've read. I'm still not feeling like Stan Lee taking over the title has really helped these stories, but it's not like they're worse than they were under Robert Bernstein. But the short page length works against a lot of Stan's set-ups; there's just not enough room for the story to develop, so we get a lot of coincidences and sudden conclusions. In this one, Thor basically just lets the Cobra go, possibly because he's just run out of pages.

But we do get the second of these...

"Tales of Asgard: Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck

Like the first Tales of Asgard, this is a short story, just depicting a lot of action straight out of Norse myth. In this one, Odin leads the battle against the Ice Giants, showing up on a flying chariot drawn by winged horses and throwing meteor bolts at his enemies. He then uses his sword to split a mountain in half, creating a chasm that the Ice Giants fall into, and imprisons Ymir in an eternal circle of flame. It's pretty amazing. Let's see those old bible comics compete with Tales of Asgard.

These tales are uncomplicated, but magnificent, and lend a real richness to the nascent cosmology of the Marvel Universe. And they're better than the main Thor stories.

Next issue: the Howling Commandos head to Berlin!

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