Here’s another book that I took ownership of as a part of my Windfall Comics purchase in 1988. I had seen the cover to this issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY before in the pages of George Olshevsky’s Marvel Comics Indexes, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to read the story before this point. It’s an early Marvel super hero book, as witnessed by the balloons on the cover with their extra-thick, colored outlines, and the lack of any company insignia apart from a tiny MC. It felt vintage, like it belonged to another era, even though the characters were familiar. This was the issue that introduced Loki into the Marvel canon–and isn’t it amazing just how popular that character has become in the last couple of years? Even at teh time when I bought this book, nobody would have believed such a thing possible.
In fact, this is so early in the history of the Marvel Universe that editor Stan Lee hasn’t yet instituted the policy of giving creator credits on the stories. But this entry in the Thor series was dialogued by Larry Lieber and penciled and largely plotted by Jack Kirby, with some contribution from Stan Lee. Dick Ayers was the inker. And as it turned out, I was familiar with this story even though I’d never read it before. You see, this was one of the stories that had been loosely adapted for the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon series, and I had seen it there. The show had taken liberties, though, combining it with its sequel from a few issues later in order to have enough material to fill the necessary run-time. So while the events of this story were old to me, the presentation was new.
Like most of the early super hero stories not dialogued by Stan Lee, this particular adventure had more the tone of a Mort Weisinger Superman story. The characters aren’t yet very deep, nor do they seem to have any interior lives. Everybody is a type, from the lame doctor Don Blake (who in this story is drawn wearing glasses for the first and only time, making him seem more like Clark Kent than he otherwise might) to nurse Jane Foster, who is depicted as a generic girlfriend and love interest. If there’s anything of interest going on here, it’s really in the artwork of Jack Kirby. Even working as rapidly as he was in these days, he creates images that somehow are memorable and are always well-composed. The whole affair is way less polished than even the most amateurish book being put out by DC in 1962, but it still somehow exudes a crude energy that’s affecting and impactful.
The gist of the story is extremely straightforward: having been imprisoned inside a tree by Odin for untold centuries, Loki, the god of mischief, is able to secure his release and heads off to Earth to get his vengeance on Thor, who was responsible for his defeat and capture. In order to lure the Thunder God to him, Loki causes a bunch of people to become weird phot-negatives of themselves. Apart from being disconcerting, this doesn’t seem to injure them any further, but Don Blake does become Thor in response, and uses his rotating hammer to “emit anti-matter particles”, which he then blows at the stricken humans, restoring them. But this is just the first round. Loki reveals himself to Thor and challenges the Thunder God to battle. As the pair soar into the sky, Loki uses the rotations of Thor’s hammer as a hypnotic focal point to rob Thor of his senses. and drop his hammer. That caption at the bottom of Panel 2 above where narrator Lieber exhorts Thor to “Be real careful…” cracks me up to this day. What an oddball choice!
but Loki doesn’t know that Thor will return to teh form of Don Blake after being separated from his hammer for 60 seconds. When this happens, he snaps out of his trance–and it’s an easy matter for him to reclaim the hammer, since nobody else can move it or pick it up. Thus stymied, Loki leads Thor on a chase across the city, during which he creates mischief and Thor fixes the damage. Ultimately, Thor is able to overpower Loki by knocking him into the ocean–in the myths, apparently, water neutralized Loki’s magic powers, a fact that will never work again. With his foe defeated, Thor attaches the God of Mischief to his hammer and hurls him back to Asgard for punishment. This is the first story that treats Thor as the genuine personal, rather than Blake–before this, Blake was transformed into Thor but still seemed to have his own personality and memories. But here, the other Gods of Asgard similarly exist and recognize him as the real Thor. This was a change for the better in the series, most likely, as it opened up more avenues for otherworldly mythic adventure.
But Thor was still a new feature, and hadn’t yet come to dominate JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY as he would in the months to come. As a result, the back half of the issue featured additional 5-page generic suspense stories. These stories were typically pretty forgettable, falling into one of a small number of tropes. But often, the artwork on them was strong enough that they still hold some interest. The first one in tis issue was drawn by Don Heck, a perennial middle-story man on the Marvel suspense titles throughout this period. Heck was never the greatest super hero artist in the world, but he was terrific at drawing regular people and he could tell a story visually extremely well. This tale is another variation on the idea of a time traveler getting his comeuppance. In this one, Filbert, the title character, builds a time machine to reach the future, only to discover that the future hasn’t happened yet, and so he’s trapped in an endless void. The end!
But the true master of these short five-pagers was Steve Ditko. His creepy left-of-center artwork seems tailor-suited to these kinds of stories. In particular, his symbolic splash pages were always arresting, such as this one. Stan Lee was a big enough fan of Ditko’s at this point that he scripted pretty much all of the Ditko stories himself rather than handing them over to his brother Larry or other hands. The story itself is nothing special, it’s all Ditko’s expression of it that makes it great. In teh far future, certain dangerous worlds are labeled Off-Limits. But a headstrong explorer wants to visit one of teh Off-Limits worlds and proceeds despite all warnings. There, he finds a seemingly beautiful paradise, and he lays down in a field to take a nap. But the joke is on him, because this world will cause the people of his planet to sleep for 100 years. And of course, the space explorer’s real name, revealed in the final panel, is Rip Van Winkle.
In these early days, there weren’t any house ads for other Marvel books to be found in this issue, no Bullpen Bulletins, no letters page. Instead, there were two pages of a text story. Comic books were required to run two pages of printed text in order to qualify for second class mailing privileges by the Post Office, which were necessary for sending out subscription copies, so every book contained stories such as this one. The likely-accurate belief was that nobody ever read these pages, and in fact they had been being recycled again and again for several years. This story, “The Clock”, first saw print in MARVEL TALES #148 in 1956.