Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #119

"The Torch Goes Wild!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers
(April 1964)

That title is an oversell. The whole issue is oversold. Both the cover and the title page tout the Rabble Rouser--played by Nicolas Cage up there--as a truly different kind of villain, but he's just the Hate-Monger without the menace and with a more predictable twist. He even has the same kind of underground rocket, something the story acknowledges. It's like flat-out stating that this story is just a thinly-veiled, anemic retread of the far superior Fantastic Four #21. But where that story had something to say about the nature of hate, this is just filler.

The Rabble Rouser is whipping up everyone against the Human Torch with the aid of some kind of wand that increases everyone's anger. It turns out he's actually a Soviet agent sent to create dissent during a foreign prince's visit to, erm, Glenville, Long Island. So the city passes all of these ordinances that say the Human Torch can't use his power inside city limits.

Finally, the Rabble Rouser kidnaps the visiting prince, Prince Nagamo, and the Torch rescues him by hypnotizing the Rabble Rouser into being a good American and destroying his wand. And this story is immediately forgotten.

Stray notes:

:: The people of Glenville are really well-versed in the Torch's personal life, noting right away that he's in a foul mood because (a) Doris Evans went out on a date with another boy; (b) he didn't make the high school football team because he kept using his powers; (c) the rest of the Fantastic Four went on vacation without him; and (d) he's always feuding with Spider-Man. In the end, Doris reveals she only went out on the date to make Torch jealous, so all is forgiven, I guess?

:: Spider-Man makes a brief appearance, and I think this is the first time anyone refers to Spidey as "ol' web-head."

:: This is the mayor of Glenville:

Is it still 1911 in Glenville? Or is Glenville inside an Archie comic? Or is Glenville inside an Archie comic in 1911? Because that would explain a lot about these stories.

At any rate, this was terrible.

"Beyond the Purple Veil!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

I love the fantasy weirdness of the Doctor Strange stories, and this one reminds me of an Edgar Rice Burroughs story. Here, Strange is trying to uncover the mystic secrets of a strange gem when two burglars break into his home and try to steal it. The gem pulls them into itself; it turns out to be a gateway into the Purple Dimension. Strange follows them in to rescue them.

The Purple Dimension reminds me of a Frazetta drawing of an ERB story; aliens, people in chains, and open, rocky spaces. Any being pulled into the Purple Dimension becomes a slave of its ruler, Agammon the All-Powerful. Sensing Doctor Strange's power, Agammon agrees to free his slaves if Strange will take their place. Strange agrees, but then bursts his chains and matches the power of his amulet to the power of Agammon's jewel-demolisher beam.

Of course, Agammon surrenders and Strange is free to go, keeping the gem. The two burglars even turn themselves in.

I was a little disappointed in the previous story, "The Possessed!," which tried to spin a Gothic possession tale into an thriller with interdimensional aliens. That story didn't really work, but this one, which also begins as a creepy horror tale and takes us into another dimension with aliens, somehow gets all of the elements right. Boy, we've been to a number of dimensions already, haven't we?

This story was great and makes up for the dull Human Torch tale.

Stray note:

:: This is the first time Strange's valet, Wong, is called by name.

:: This is one of a number of occasions where Stan spells it both "Dormammu" and "Mormammu." It'll get codified eventually.

Next: the Black Widow!

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