Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #52

"The Black Knight Strikes!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers
(February 1964)

This issue's villain begins life as Professor Nathan Garrett, a prominent scientist whom Giant-Man exposes for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. His bail is set at $100,000, which is promptly paid by other Soviet agents who smuggle Garrett out of the US and into "a remote Balkan kingdom." And while he's there, a statue of a winged horse gives him an idea...

Cut to weeks later, and the Wasp sees a knight riding around on a winged horse who is engaging in that time-honored Marvel villain tradition: robbing banks. Professor Garrett is back in the country for revenge on Giant-Man, riding upon an apparently quite successful genetic experiment and calling himself the Black Knight.

Giant-Man intercepts him while menacing a passenger helicopter. It's kind of neat how Hank grabs onto the bottom of the helicopter after being dropped by an Air Force cargo plane and their fight begins in the sky. It doesn't last long, though; Black Knight blinds him with his mirror visor and fires bola balls out of his lance which tie up Giant-Man, and then he explains all about his new identity and brandishes his lance, explaining that it is many weapons in one: a machine gun, an acetylene torch, etc. Black Knight also carries a paralysis ray and a, ahem, "itch ray," which he fires at Giant-Man. Unable to resist the maddening itching (just go with it), Hank lets go of the helicopter and plummets to his doom.

Or would, except he changes to ant-size and the Wasp rescues him. One of the things I like in this issue is that Hank keeps changing between Ant-Man, Giant-Man, and his regular human size. It's much more effective than just sticking with one trick like he usually does. This is a possibility I wish they'd actually use a lot more, since it's much more effective.

Having regrouped, Giant-Man and the Black Knight fight in an amusement park. I'll be honest, after their dynamic confrontation in the sky, it sort of fizzles. Not only that, but the Black Knight merely gives up because Hank's constant size-changing is driving him mad, so he just gets back on his horse and flies off, vowing to return. It's like everyone involved realized they were running out of pages and just decided to stop everything.

Stray observations:

:: The Black Knight is another revival of an older character.

The first Black Knight, created by Stan Lee & Joe Maneely, had his own comic that ran for six issues in 1955. Sir Percy of Scandia, a retainer at the court of King Arthur, acted as an agent of Merlin, defending Camelot as the mysterious Black Knight. I don't know if this character is supposed to be descended from Sir Percy, or if Stan is just reusing the concept the way he did with the Human Torch, but it is neat to see some of the older concepts becoming parts of the Marvel Universe.

Since I don't know if the original Black Knight is actually part of the past of the Marvel Universe (the way Sub-Mariner and Captain America are), I also don't know if the Merlin that fought Thor is the same Merlin of Camelot. Guess we'll see. The less said about Robert Bernstein's stories, the better.

:: When the Wasp is late to her meeting with Hank, she says it's because she was distracted by the appearance of the Black Knight. Before she explains herself, Hank admonishes her: "For the love of Pete, Jan! Can't you ever just admit you forgot instead of making up some ridiculous excuse all the time??" Wow, way to make this lab a safe space to share in, you jerk. And then he doesn't even believe her story about the Black Knight until the ants start reporting it and a police report corroborates it. You're just hitting every sexist note today, Hank.

:: Also, when Jan sees the Black Knight and turns into the Wasp to investigate, she does so in the back of a cab, leaving money behind for a driver who jumps right to "The jalopy's haunted!" I just... I hate this go-to so much, and the fact that Stan uses it three times a month doesn't make it any easier. It's hacky, Stan. Stop being so hacky.

:: Jan gets the winged horse to throw the Black Knight by using "a simple feminine trick" of pinching the horse. I just can't with you right now, Stan. I just can't.

It's a mixed bag, but the Black Knight seems like he has a lot of interesting potential as a villain, which is a weird thing to say about a Giant-Man villain. It's too bad his evil plan sort of wasn't really there and the issue just ended suddenly. I hope we see him again soon, but in a better-planned story. This one feels a bit filler-y, with some neat ideas that don't really come to fruition.

In the next Marvels: find out just why J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man so much.


Roger Owen Green said...

And there's a later Black Knight in the Marvel universe - or is it the same guy? - but he's a good guy. Memory is fading, but seems that he was in Steve Gerber's version of the Defenders, I believe.

SamuraiFrog said...

I assume that's a different guy... I could look it up. I remember him, he was also on the Avengers. When I first started reading Marvel Comics as a kid, he was an Avenger and he rode around on a sort of robotic flying saddle.

SamuraiFrog said...

I looked it up, and it is a different Black Knight who is apparently related to BOTH of the previous Black Knights, and he was indeed both a Defender and an Avenger, and apparently even in Heroes for Hire. His first appearance will be in Avengers #47.