Thanks to an observation by reader Ben Herman we can take a bit of a closer look at the question of the lead story in STRANGE TALES #119, which appeared to have been retooled from being a Hate-Monger adventure into one pitting the Human Torch against the new-but-similar villainy of the Rabble Rouser. After yesterday’s piece went up on line, Ben pointed out that the original artwork for the entirety of this story had been auditioned off from Heritage Auctions not that long ago, and that their scans of the pages were still available on their web site. So with that information in hand, I went and took a look at those originals. And here is what I found.
First off, writer Will Murray had mentioned that he thought he had seen the splash page to this tale at a convention several years ago, and he recalled it as having been originally intended for an earlier issue than #119–one of the things that led him to believe that this job had originally been a Hate-Monger story which was retooled. But at least from what we can see here on the art, that doesn’t seem to be the case. That notation about it being for the December 1963 issue would have been referring to its publication date, not the cover date, so the fact that it doesn’t line up with the April cover date on #119 isn’t indicative of anything.
What is relatively damning on these original boards, however, are Dick Ayers’ border notes. These would have been written by Dick when the story was drawn, so if changes were made to the character, there should be evidence here. And what evidence there is disproves this entire theory, I’m afraid. IN several places, Ayers makes reference in his border notes to the Rabble Rouser (or RR) as well as to him working for the Reds, which is the plot to the finished story. There isn’t anything in display that might indicate that the plot or the character were changed.
Ayers’ border notes do reference the Hate-Monger directly at one point, and that is where the Rabble Rouser is about to make use of the same type of underground vessel that the Hate-Monger had used. There have been some changes made to the copy in the middle tier of that page, as it’s clear in the art that all of these captions have been cut and pasted, indicating that changes were made. In two panels, art additions are clear to fill in the space left over from the original, longer captions. I’m not sure what may have been written there originally that required this whole tier to be relettered, but there you have it.
Even on the final page, where the evidence of changes to the Rabble Rouser’s face seem the most obvious, Ayers’ border notes support the story as published. So at that, I feel as though I need to label this theory of mine completely debunked. But it is a good lesson for anybody who studies the history of comics and tries to glean information from these old stories: sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and what looks to be compelling evidence can just be an incorrect interpretation of what you’re looking at.