This issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY was situated right at the transition point between the early Marvel style of storytelling and the more mature and measured approach the firm would take through its glory years. By this point, artist and largely plotter Jack Kirby had received a rate increase that permitted him to slow down just a tiny little bit and spend more time on each individual page. He was also largely set free from teh constraints of doing single issue stories, as Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s experiments with broader serialization in the Hulk strip had proved worthwhile. So Kirby’s ambitions became vaster, his vistas became more ever-expanding, and his subject matter became more intense and at teh same time, more personal.
One of the things that also helped with this transition was a change of inkers. For the year prior, Chic Stone had been Marvel’s inker of choice for embellishing the work of teh King, but Stone wanted to pencil, and after a year he moved on to do so at other companies. As a bit of a stopgap, Frank Giacoia was brought in to ink an issue or two of Jack’s regular books FANTASTIC FOUR and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. Giacoia was a great and faithful inker for Kirby, and really made him look his best. But he was also not the most reliable freelancer, and so more long-term accommodations had to be made, ones that would result in the divisive Vince Colletta becoming the regular inker on the series for years to come.
For his part, scripter Stan Lee had found his sweet spot on THOR as well, steadily infusing the strip with more colorful speeches that channeled the olde English of Shakespeare. While events on Earth were still of some import in the series, the focus would hereafter more largely be on Asgard, the home of the gods, as well as the entirety of the cosmos, as Lee and Kirby sent the Thunder God off on adventures of cosmic proportions. It’s really no wonder that THOR became the third-best selling title in the Marvel line for the duration of the 1960s, selling behind only FANTASTIC FOUR and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
Story-wise, this was right at the beginning of a sprawling saga that would run for many, many issues without a break, each adventure transitioning smoothly mid-step to the next. As we open up on things, Thor has been forced to abandon his battle with the Lok-created Absorbing Man because the God of Evil has kidnapped Thor’s would-be girlfriend Jane Foster and taken her back to Asgard. Pursuing Loki across the rainbow Bridge, Thor spends the first few pages cleaning clock on his half-brother, before Odin arrives and breaks the two of them up. Sinister Loki lies to teh All-Father and tells him that it was Thor who broke Odin’s laws by bringing Jane to Asgard, and to adjudicate the matter, Odin declares that the Trial of the Gods must commence. But Thor begs his father for 24 hours so that he can zip back to Earth and take care of teh Absorbing Man before facing this challenge.
A pause for this house ad showing off two more triumphs then on sale.
In the meantime, teh dangerous Absorbing Man has proven to be unstoppable by the police, and despite the efforts of Harris Hobbs, a reporter who got caught up in the midst of events. Only when Thor arrives do the tables turn. Unable to cope with Crusher Creel’s ability to transform his body into any substance he touches, Thor uses his hammer like a cyclotron and produces helium. When the Absorbing Man comes into contact with it, he takes on teh properties of the gas, and is shot high into the atmosphere, defeated. With his task completed, Thor stops in to see Jane one final time before he has to face Odin’s justice back in Asgard. That final panel shows signs of a lettering change, and I suspect that it originally read …LIKE A MAN! before Stan realized (or somebody pointed out) that Thor is really more than a man.
For whatever reason, FANTASTIC FOUR was considered important enough this month that it commanded an entire full page house ad all by itself. As with JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, the World’s greatest Comic Magazine was likewise about to experience a stunning increase in quality, signified by the impending arrival of inker Joe Sinnott.
Vince Colletta was already by this point inking the regular Tales of Asgard back-up series in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, and campaigning to be given the entire book to ink every month. His woodcut-influenced style was well-liked by the readership at the time, as well as by editor Lee. And he wasn’t yet taking quite so many shortcuts on Kirby’s work as he would eventually come to do. His work here isn’t quite as crisp and sharp as Giacoia’s, but this is still a very nice splash page with a lot going on (though I’d guess that the one silhouette of a warrior in the background left was likely fully drawn by Jack and knocked out by Vinnie.)
The Tales of Asgard back-ups signaled the direction in which the series would evolve, as they were set entirely in Asgard and were often (though not always) based upon the genuine Norse legends of the Gods. This particular story was the third of what turned out to be a three-part cycle exploring the origins and early days of Loki. In that era, he was likely the most full-on evil and definitely the slimiest of the Marvel villains, so it’s been interesting to see how much more nuanced his character has become in the past decade or so. On the inking front, it looks as though Vinnie took a few shortcuts here, to the point where certain figures and images look a little bit unfinished. Colletta was reliable, but that was because he’d only devote so much time to any one page.
There was still one more issue to plug, DAREDEVIL #7 which introduced the Man Without Fear’s new and more recognizable costume. Looking over all of these ads all at once, you can see just how strong the Marvel line was during this period–everything is really cracking and being executed well. And the Merry Marvel Marching Society was in operation, offering membership and a neat-o kit of goodies for an applicant’s dollar.
Unlike the rest of the line, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY only got a single page letters page. But that was because, between the 16 page lead Thor story and the 5 page Tales of Asgard back-up, it was giving readers an additional page of story as compared to everything else.