Sunday, May 10, 2015

Marvels: Strange Tales #121

It certainly wasn't my intention to take a--to the day--two-month break from this series, but now we're back.

"Prisoner of the Plantman!" by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers
(June 1964)

I thought Plantman was kind of a lame villain when he first appeared in the Jerry Siegel-scripted story in Strange Tales #113, but I have to say, I really love this new costume. It's somehow the lamest and most amazing thing I've ever seen. What a step up from his first appearance, when he just wore a trenchcoat, hat and mask. He's still just a guy who can control plants but can't come up with anything interesting for them to do, but theatricality goes a long way in super-villainy.

That's really all there is to say about this story; cute, but inessential.

Stray observations:

:: "One of the most fearsome foes the Torch has ever faced!" It wouldn't be Strange Tales if Stan wasn't breathlessly overselling it.

:: You know, I take back what I said about Plantman not coming up with anything for his plants to do.

I'm up for anything that's just generally making Johnny Storm's day a little bit worse.

:: I like that Plantman robs the hotel safe at the hotel across the street from Johnny's house. It's a nice change of pace from banks and jewelry stores.

:: So, the Human Torch's flame burns so hot that bullets melt before they can touch him, but he can get easily pelted with a bunch of acorns? Is that scientifically sound? I'm genuinely asking, I'm bad at science and I have no idea what the melting point of acorns might be and how relative it is to the melting point of lead.

:: More than any other Marvel Universe book right now, the Johnny Storm stories really do seem to be written for kids. Most of the banter during the Torch's big fight with Plantman is a series of "I'm gonna do this and finish you off!" "Nuh-uh, I'm gonna do this so you can't get me!" "I knew you'd do that, so I'm gonna do this!"

"Witchcraft in the Wax Museum!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

Another atmospheric Dr. Strange thriller. Baron Mordo tricks Dr. Strange into leaving his body in his ectoplasmic form, then hides Strange's body, knowing that if Strange isn't reunited with his physical form after 24 hours, the body will die and Strange's astral spirit will fade away into nothing. Good plan; it takes Strange over 23 hours just to find his body in a wax museum, only to find that Mordo has placed a spell on it so they two halves can't be made whole.

In the end, Dr. Strange has to take over a wax dummy and trick Mordo into taking his own ectoplasmic form, then feigning defeat before getting the upper hand, taking his body back and trapping Mordo outside of his body in turn. Strange, though, has vowed never to take a life, and reassures his enemy that the spell will only last 23 hours, giving him plenty of time to think about his misdeeds.

It continues to amaze me how good the Dr. Strange stories are. Stan & Steve show real artistry in such a short amount of space and with rather simple premises; it's like a masterclass in graphic storytelling. Marvel's just launched into one of their big events this week, and that always makes me long for the old days of compressed storytelling.

Stray notes:

:: Dr. Strange fights some really weird ectoplasmic allies of Mordo.

I want more and more of these kinds of weird things. I love this series.

:: Somewhat-related: wouldn't you rather see a Netflix series of Dr. Strange rather than a movie? I'd love to have the extra room to breathe here, to really create this mysterious world. And it seems to fit right in with some of the conflicts they set up in Daredevil which are obviously going to eventually tie into Iron Fist and probably the overall run up to The Defenders. Dr. Strange was a Defender, anyway...

Next Marvels (sooner than two months, that's for sure): the return of the Mandarin!

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