This issue of MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS was another book that I bought on that night after I’d worked all day at my father’s office. It was an issue that I picked up for the most important reason possible: it was priced more cheaply than other issues that were there, thus allowing my money to go further. I was definitely up for any classic Fantastic Four story, but there wasn’t anything particular about this outing with Doctor Doom that made me have to have it any more than any other issue apart from the price. That I got both a Doctor Strange story and an Iron Man adventure as well was just gravy–neither character was a particular favorite, but I liked them both just fine, particularly in this classic 1960s material.
This opening story originally saw print in FANTASTIC FOUR #23, and by that point, inker Dick Ayers had been replaced by George Roussos, working under the pseudonym of George Bell. Roussos was, well, a much rawer inker than Ayers had been, and his work often comes across as though he did it in a hurry. Which he may have done. Not only was he moonlighting from his regular freelance gigs at DC/National in order to do it, but Marvel was then paying him a lot less as well. So George hit the pages with speed, impressionistic slashes that often reduced Kirby’s drawings down to their elemental essence. He’s one of the more divisive Kirby inkers of the period, and the folks who don’t like his work really, really don’t like it. And honestly, I don’t love it, depending on the issue and the story.
The story was a typical fun adventure of the sort this period was famous for. On the FF side, after becoming cheesed off at how Reed always orders them around, the other three members of the team mutiny and all jockey among themselves to become the new leader of the team. Meanwhile, Doctor Doom gives special abilities to a trio of criminals in order to use them as catspaws in order to capture the FF–which he does. Doom then off-handedly exiles the trio of crooks to another dimension as payment, so that when the FF escape, they can battle against Doom single-handedly. This is still the early Doom, before he was revealed to be the ruler of Latveria, and this Doom didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. He’s also set up the building they’re in to be teleported instantaneously to outer space through some pseudo-science that Stan couldn’t get across and that I didn’t really buy at the time as a reader. Of course, it’s klutzy Doom who ends up hurled into outer space, while the FF make it through, their differences mended and Reed’s leadership restored.
The Doctor Strange story, meanwhile, was a real classic, the first half of a two-part adventure that introduced both the dread Dormammu, one of Strange’s most lasting enemies (whose name had been used in prior incantations in the series) as well as a nameless girl who would later become known as Clea, Strange’s girlfriend and eventual wife (and future Sorcerer Supreme herself.) The greatest appeal, as usual, was the mysterioso manner in which Steve Ditko depicted the otherworldly vista of the Dark Dimension. As in the previous issue we looked at, again here Strange’s formerly blue cloak has been colored red, in the manner of the current version of the character–which helps to create a bit more confusion when the Ancient One gives Strange the new cloak at the end of this two-parter.
The story begins with Strange returning from the Ancient One’s abode from his previous adventure–only for him to be magically transported back there instantaneously. It turns out that an emissary of Dormammu has come to alert the Ancient One that the lord of the Dark Dimension intends to sally forth onto Earth. This cannot be permitted to happen, and yet the Ancient One is too old and infirm to face him–so Doctor Strange volunteers his services. In order to make his way to Dormammu’s stronghold, Strange must pass through layer upon layer of the dark Dimension, facing and defeating assorted mystic challenges along the way. His struggle is witnessed by Clea, who has never seen such unselfishness and heroism before. She warns Doc not to continue, but while the Earth is in jeopardy, Dormammu must be faced. And on the final page of this first chapter, Strange has made it into Dormammu’s presence, and he challenges the strange flame-headed being to combat in order to prevent him from making his way to Earth. And that’s where this story is To Be Continued!
By the time these reprint mags were being released, Marvel’s line had expanded to the point where house ads were fewer, and tended to focus most routinely on that year’s Annuals. Here we see an ad for the fourth SGT FURY Annual as well as the current issue of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES, a series that was half vintage reprints from the 1940s and 1950s but which was running new material in the front, typically of a tryout nature. This time out, it was the Phantom Eagle in the spotlight. He didn’t really go on to much more after this–outside of Captain Marvel, for whom this format was originated, nothing much that was previewed in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES graduated into a title, at least not at that time.
The back of the book showcased the Iron Man story, which was used to close it out–shrinking page counts had eaten in to how many stories might be reprinted in a single Annual-sized magazine. Iron Man had clearly started out as something of a second-tier strip. It suffered from constant creative shuffling, and was a series on which editor Lee tried out prospective writers to see if they could emulate the Marvel style he was developing. Consequently, the strip struggled for a time. but a character redesign by Steve Ditko along with Lee beginning to write the series himself made it pop a bit more. Lee focused on the tragedy of the character, how his life-saving chest plate separated him from his fellow man, in particular the assorted romantic interests that would enter his circle, most regularly his secretary/gal friday Pepper Potts. Lee worked out relatively quickly that romantic troubles and can’t/must situations with women were one of the concepts that was striking sparks with the audience, and so he played that angle up both here and in other series such as THOR.
The new villain in this story would wind up having a long history as a hero–eventually. But in this story, Hawkeye the marksman is jealous of the attention given to Iron Man–so much so that he decides to become a costumed adventurer himself rather than simply a circus attraction. Unfortunately, in his first outing, he’s mistaken for a criminal and pursued by the police. Even worse, seeing his distress and sensing an opportunity, he is picked up by the Black Widow, still in her femme fatale role. Hawkeye is instantly smitten with the Widow and will go along with whatever she wants–even espionage against Tony Stark’s defense plant. Iron Man wasn’t quite so much of a powerhouse as he eventually became, and so Hawkeye is able to kick him around pretty good. It’s only when the Widow is wounded by a stray shot that he scoops her up and retreats from the battle. Hawkeye and the Widow would become regular members of Shellhead’s cast of villains for a year or so, before Lee and Kirby decided to bring Hawkeye in as a member of their newly revamped AVENGERS series.