Friday, July 11, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #115

"The Sandman Strikes!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers
(December 1963)

The Sandman was a formidable and deadly villain in his first appearance, one of those perfect, nigh-unbeatable foes for Spider-Man. It was an epic clash of might and will.

And then Spidey sucked him up into an industrial shop vac.

At the beginning of this story, we learn how the Sandman made his daring escape from prison: the police put him in a regular cell and he simply turned to sand and trickled through the barred window and down the side of the building and walked away.

Maybe it's time for the criminal justice system of the Marvel Universe to invest in some new technology for keeping super-powered criminals incarcerated.

Anyway, Mr. Fantastic wants Johnny to go and find Spider-Man, because Spidey's experience can be of help here. Johnny, of course, is offended at the very notion, and hauls off to find the Sandman himself. When he does, the Sandman actually refuses to fight some kid. (Imagine how he'll feel if he ever discovers Spidey himself is a teenager!) "You may scare the bejabbers out of small time punks and juvenile delinquents, but you're out of your league this time!" Not taken into consideration: this kid has actually defeated the Sub-Mariner and fought Doctor Doom.

Like any kid that gets condescended to, Johnny is angry. So angry that he somehow gets his hands on a Spider-Man costume and pretends to be Spider-Man in order to draw the Sandman out. The two end up fighting inside an office building, where Johnny manages to forget that such things as emergency sprinklers exist.

Still, not as bad as that one time...

Now Johnny can't use his flame, but he manages to defeat the Sandman easily because the Thing taught him all about street fighting, Mr. Fantastic taught him judo and karate, and apparently there's still enough heat in Johnny's body to more than double his strength, an ability we've never seen before and will never see again.

So Johnny grabs the Sandman, spins him around until he's dizzy and off-balance, and then just punches him out. The guy who made his jaw so hard that Spider-Man nearly broke his hand giving him one on the chin. Now, I'd start in with the digs about how Sandman can just turn into sand, but he's soaked through because of the emergency sprinklers. But he can apparently still increase his mass to the fullest, so... yeah.

Sure, why not?

Stray notes:

:: That artwork up top works if you read it in a Popeye voice, but it's funnier if you read it in a Roscoe P. Coltrane voice.

:: The Human Torch says "Hot ziggety!" He also calls Sandman a "mugwump." It's all legitimate slang, but is it legitimate 1963 slang for teenagers? I feel like it's late forties/early fifties slang, but I'm just basing that off of old records and Archie comics. Stan is 41 years old at the time he wrote this, so I wonder if he's using slang from his younger days.

:: "Here I am, boss-man! No applause, please--it embarrasses me!" Johnny is at his most obnoxiously self-confident in this issue. But the dialogue is all really snappy. It's kind of a lesser-tier, low stakes story, but it's fun to read and extremely well-paced. "Set your mind at ease, big daddy! Whatever your caper is, I'll still wrap it up in time to date some lucky chick tonight!" Lousy beatnik.

:: Dick Ayers' artwork is fantastic, as usual.

I really like it when artists give the Human Torch facial expressions. Some artists just have the flames obscure his face, but this is a great expressive moment.

:: The final panel shows Spider-Man watching from the shadows as the guy who can turn his entire body to sand is led away in handcuffs. Get a plastic box or something, guys. Spider-Man wonders how long it will be before this town is too small for both Spider-Man and the Human Torch. Hey, kids: can't we just be glad the bad guy was arrested?

:: The text story this issue, "Zero of Time," features Father Time. No word on whether or not this is the actual Elder of the Universe.

On to our next story...

"The Origin of Dr. Strange" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

In response to "an avalanche of requests," this month's Dr. Strange story goes three extra pages in order to bring us the origin of the Master of Black Magic, as he's still being billed.

Stephen Strange was a skilled, masterful surgeon who was vain and haughty, only working for money, not interested in his patients or in medical research, until a car crash injured the nerves in his hands so severely that he could no longer perform operations. After wandering the streets, destitute and self-pitying, he overhears sailors talking about the Ancient One, a magician in India who can cure anything.

The Ancient One is also uninterested in charity.

I like the Ancient One. He's a harsh teacher, but he's also kind of wry. Strange asks is the Ancient One has made the snows so bad that Strange can't leave, but dismisses the existence of magic. The Ancient One notes "You must not allow yourself to believe in magic. It would be... unseemly." He is trying to find a worthy successor to hold the forces of darkness at bay.

Strange is to stay and learn the ways of magic. The Ancient One has another pupil already: Mordo. And, in short order, Strange stumbles on Mordo's plot to murder the Ancient One. Dr. Strange plans to warn the Ancient One, but Mordo curses him, making him unable to ever speak his plans.

It's then that Strange makes his decision: he cannot warn the Ancient One, but he can stay and learn the mystic arts so that he can foil Mordo's plans and protect his intended victim. And with that decision, he finally becomes worthy of the Ancient One's help, his disciple in the fight for good, and is released from Mordo's curse. By the Ancient One. Because of course the Ancient One knows about Mordo's plot. Because he's the Ancient One.

I mean, come on.

Stray notes:

:: "India, land of mystic enchantment..." That Orientalist tradition is strong in these earlier stories.

:: The Ancient One is attacked by the Vapors of Valtorr. It's the first named spell in a Dr. Strange story. Mordo also calls on the powers of Dormammu for the first time.

:: And just for the hell of it, here are some great Steve Ditko expressions:

Next Marvels: the new Iron Man!

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