Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #120

"The Torch Meets Iceman!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(May 1964)

It's an obvious idea to get the Human Torch and Iceman to cross paths--they're both teenagers, their powers are opposites--but the story here never rises above that obviousness. Hey, let's get these kids together. Why? I dunno, we'll think of something.

What happens is that Johnny Storm ends up on the same Manhattan cruise as Bobby Drake, who has gone there to meet girls because "there are always a lot of swingin' teens on these cruises!" Bobby flirts with Johnny's girlfriend Doris Evans, only to be showed up by the famous Human Torch.

All of this is interrupted when pirates led by the Barracuda board the cruise ship to rob the passengers. So the Torch and Iceman spring into action, and that's pretty much the whole thing. Stan & Jack try to stretch out the page count by doing things like dunking Johnny in the ocean so he can't flame on, but it's basically fight-fight-rescue Doris from the bad guy-catch the bad guy-the end.

I think part of the problem here is that I don't really care about Bobby Drake yet. We've only had four issues of X-Men so far, and none of the characters have really been established well enough to make me care about them and their personalities. Stan's been shoving the characters into other books in cameos a little too overzealously. It's like he's trying to force us to accept the X-Men as part of the Marvel Universe without really doing anything to make them worthwhile. So far, the only character in X-Men that's worth anything is Magneto. And frankly I find Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch more interesting than any of the heroes.

Now, this story's alright--it's not as terrible as the one where Angel turned evil because of a nuclear explosion and fought Iron Man--but it's pretty by-the-numbers.

I did think it was cute when Iceman decided to sneak away from the cruise. He's not doing the ice slides all the time yet, so he improvises:

Back to your own title, son.

Now, on to the real reason to show up to Strange Tales...

"The House of Shadows!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

This month's Doctor Strange story isn't complicated, but it's very atmospheric and that's what I love in this series.

It begins with Doctor Strange showing up at a live television broadcast, where a reporter plans to enter a supposedly haunted house and spend the night there. The reporter gets trapped inside, and Strange has to work several magical spells simply to get into the house. It turns out that the house itself is alive, a visitor from another dimension who disguised himself as a house to observe humanity. Strange saves the reporter and banishes the house back to its own dimension, and then walks away as the spectators hurry out of his way.

Like I said, it's a slight story, but Steve Ditko's art is, as always, the main attraction.

Doctor Strange only has 8 to 9 pages each issue, so Stan & Steve can't afford to do anything too complex, but Steve always manages with his art to make things so mysterious and dynamic that everything seems like a miniature epic. It's really an art form unto itself, and Steve Ditko is the master of it.

Stray observation:

:: It's been interesting hearing that the upcoming Doctor Strange movie will start with Strange already established and known, instead of going with an origin. I think that's a good idea, but it also mirrors how these stories began in Strange Tales. When Strange shows up at the broadcast, people know who he is and wonder if he's there for atmosphere (they assume the whole thing is a ratings gimmick). Previously, we've seen police officers and crooks who already know who Dr. Strange is. It lends the character an air of authority that we didn't have to spend years developing.

Next time: the Black Widow returns! And the origin of the Watcher!

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