Friday, August 08, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #116

"In the Clutches of the Puppet Master!" by Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & George Roussos
(January 1964)

When we last saw the Puppet Master, he was fleeing from a giant octopus in a submarine. This issue spends a couple of pages showing his escape, before turning to his new plan to take on the Fantastic Four: divide and conquer. He knows that his stepdaughter, Alicia Masters, is in love with Ben Grimm, so he uses his puppets to send Johnny Storm to hit on the girl. She's confused and tries to brush him off, but Ben enters and the two fight. Their tensions have been simmering long enough that Ben barely needs the extra push.

Most of this story's time is spent just watching the two battle their way across town to Idlewild Airport. Alicia, having figured out that her stepfather is behind this, takes a cab to their location and, at her direction, Johnny burns the puppets and the Puppet Master's control is broken. The Puppet Master flees the scene, but the day is more or less saved.

It has potential, but it's pretty much filler. Entertaining filler, but inessential.

Stray observations:

:: Are we still clear on how the Puppet Master's powers work? Originally it was explained that he had found some radioactive clay, and when he made puppets in the likeness of others, that clay would allow him to control them. Here, he makes the puppets, puts them to his head, and establishes mental control. So, is the power from the clay itself, or from Puppet Master's mind? Because if it comes from the clay, just take the clay and lock it up somewhere, problem solved. It seems more like it's some kind of mutant power. The whole thing doesn't make much sense to me, honestly.

:: During their fight, Human Torch uses his flame to cut a gigantic wrecking ball in half, like a knife through an apple. Also, does Stan Lee think that Johnny loses physical integrity when he's in his flaming form, or is he just overworked? In this story, Johnny gets sucked into a jet's engine and harmlessly floats out through its exhaust. Wha?

:: I don't think George Roussos is the right inker for Dick Ayers' pencils. The Thing is very dark and ugly in this issue.

"Return to the Nightmare World!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

I've wanted to see more of the Nightmare World since we first ventured there in Dr. Strange's debut in Strange Tales #110. This story does not disappoint.

The way Steve Ditko visualizes the Nightmare World and the strange physics that govern it is wonderfully weird. There's nothing else like this in the Marvel Universe, really. (I do love that, as grounded in reality as Marvel Comics have been so far, it still has room for real leaps of the fantastic like the Nightmare World or Asgard.) Nightmare--who is never seen fully, but always has shadows over his face--eventually wants to invade our waking world, and to that end decides to kidnap humans in order to study them. When the police begin to notice that people are falling into deep sleeps from which they cannot wake--with their eyes open, no less--they consult Dr. Strange, master of the supernatural.

Strange consults the Book of Vishanti, of which he has the only existing copy. Through a spell in the book, he enters the Nightmare World.

Have I mentioned enough how amazing and weird this place looks? Because it does, and I adore it.

Strange, connected to physical reality by the power of Hoggoth, cannot stray from the path in his astral form. Nightmare tries to impede him, but cannot act against the astral form unless Strange steps off the path. Strange uses some mystic tricks to save the captive humans, but steps off the path and is trapped in the Nightmare World, where Nightmare unleashes his spinybeast on the sorcerer. Strange defeats the monster with his amulet and escapes Nightmare, making it safely back into the mortal world.

My description of all of this doesn't do it justice; so much of this is in the art of Steve Ditko, and the choices he makes in panels, in pacing, and in the delightful strangeness of it all. This is my favorite Dr. Strange story so far, and I just hope they get weirder from here.

Stray observations:

:: "In the name of the dread Dormammu... in the name of the all-seeing Agamotto... by the powers that dwell in the darkness... I summon the hosts of Hoggoth!" Nothing like the first time.

Next Marvels: Iron Man vs. Angel!


Roger Owen Green said...

Every time I read the word Idlewild, I always think of the Car 54, Where Are You? theme: "Khrushchev's due at Idlwild," I, of course, became JFK airport.t

SamuraiFrog said...

I think it was not very long after this that it became JFK, too. But I also always think of the Car 54 theme song. Interesting to note that spell check doesn't recognize Idlewild.