As we begin to narrow things down among the various comics that I wound up with in my great Windfall Comics purchase of 1988, we’re inevitably focusing more and more on the titles that simply weren’t considered all that desirable by collectors in this period–that’s why there were so many issues of them. This definitely applies to STRANGE TALES, outside of a couple of key issues (none of which were a part of my haul–they’d been cherry-picked at some earlier point I expect.) The book wasn’t terrible, but it was definitely a lesser effort in the early Marvel line, and even at its peak, it was never quite as strong as the rest of the line on one front or another.
The lead story in this issue is a bit of a strange thing. It features what at first glance appears to be a brand new villain: the Rabble Rouser, a communist agitator who uses a mesmerizing want to drive crowds to riot and ruin. But a closer reading of the story appears to indicate that it actually started out as featuring the Hate-Monger, the Hitler-faced villain introduced earlier in FANTASTIC FOUR. I wrote about this extensively in two earlier posts, linked to below. It appears that the shift from the Hate-Monger to the new Rabble Rouser must have happened relatively early in the process, but still some of the earlier villains signature weapons and accoutrements were passed along to his bushy-mustached successor.
The story here is relatively dopey, and there’s a sense that neither scripter Stan Lee nor artist Dick Ayers was entirely convinced by what they were writing and drawing. It sure seems in some places that Lee is trying to paper over cracks in the narrative through sheer verbiage. Anyway, the story opens with the Human Torch on the back foot thanks to the efforts of the Rabble Rouser. He’s gotten the Torch declared a danger to the community, and shortly the City Council passing an ordinance prohibiting flaming on within the city limits. That has to be unconstitutional, right? Well, either way, after first losing his temper, Johnny Storm figures that he’s got to abide by it.
Having no editorial matter apart from the stories–STRANGE TALES didn’t carry a letters page yet–the book is chock-a-block full of house ads for other Marvel titles, most of which focused on only a single release such as this one. These ads tended to be shot from the covers before they underwent their final alterations from Stan Lee and publisher Martin Goodman, so often there are details that have been eliminated or simplified on the final printed covers. A fun little game you can play with these old ads.
Having neutralized the Torch, the Rabble Rouser proceeds to show his true colors–as though his name wasn’t revealing enough! He decides to abduct the visiting dignitary Prince Nagamo to cause an international incident that will embarrass the United States. (Despite his name, Prince Nagamo is depicted as being a white man, although we never really get all that good a shot of him in this story.) The Torch is present when the Rabble Rouser drives the hate-Monger’s old underground borer craft up in the midst of the parade honoring Nagamo’s arrival, but he can’t do anything about it, because he’s prohibiting from using his flame. The crowds, of course, don’t see this subtlety, and so they give Johnny the business for not preventing this from happening. A guy just can’t win. The Mayor is also in attendance, and he gives the Torch special dispensation to use his powers and rescue Nagamo.
From here, the rest of the story is a fast-paced chase and fight, as the Torch cleans up on his foe, turning his own mesmerizer wand against him and forcing him to disavow his communist leanings. By the last two panels, the Torch has also been granted immunity from the city ordinance and can flame on at will again, and he’s also reconciled with his girlfriend Doris Evans, who had been dating some other guy in order to make Johnny jealous. It’s all pretty uninspired stuff, with none of the snap that made the best of the Marvel titles of this era really jump off the stands and stand out from the pack.
We’re between stories, so it’s time for another house ad, this one for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #11, another cover that was messed around with a bit before it was eventually published. This version shows Spidey’s original legs–Lee had Jack Kirby redraw them while visiting the offices.
But the big draw of STRANGE TALES during this period, at least for some, is the Doctor Strange back-up feature. As illustrated by Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange was a magic strip that felt more plausible and more genuine than most of what had passed for sorcery in other series in the past. Ditko’s moody and design-oriented artwork was also well-employed on the feature, and especially now that he’d returned to inking his own pencils, it was an especially good looking feature–one that incorporated all of the strengths of the short 5-page twist ending stories that Lee and Ditko had cut their teeth on with the appeal of a continuing heroic character.
Hey, another house ad! And the return of Captain America–the real one, as the blurb on the cover indicates, though it would be revised before the book was actually published.
The story involves a pair of burglars who attempt to rip off Doctor Strange’s sanctum, much to their regret. They’re drawn to a large purple gem, which is the gateway to the Purple Veil, another mystic dimension. When they’re pulled into it, Strange must follow even though they are evildoers, and save them from the wrath of the ruler of the Purple Dimension, Aggamon. Strange fights a tense mystic duel with the warlord, one he only wins because his foe’s nerve cracks before his does. And in the end, the two men he saved vow to turn over a new leaf, so his battle hasn’t been in vain. A nice little potboiler raised up by the strong graphics.
And one final house ad before we wrap things up, this one split between X-MEN and SGT FURY, which may have been considered two of the lesser titles in the line, and so not warranting a full page ad each.
3 thoughts on “WC: STRANGE TALES #119”
Wow, one rather so so rehashing of an earlier FF story in the HT feature and a decent but short and not particularly significant Dr. Strange tale, and 4 pages worth of house ads for 6 other mags, one of high significance — the return of Captain America; and another of somewhat lesser significance but introducing the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, including Wanda & Pietro. But also key issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, with the return of Dr. Octopus and the introduction and death of Betty Brant’s brother in the former; and in the latter the first all-out battle between the Thing & the Hulk as well as the first half of Marvel’s first full-fledged two-part story as well as a loose cross-over with the Avengers, marking a key development in Marvel history. Against all that, the Johnny Storm solo story comes off as particularly poor. But then, I get the impression that the Human Torch series was aimed at the kiddie brigade to a much greater degree than most of Marvel’s other ongoing series of the time. The Dr. Strange feature, meanwhile, is simply trudging along, awaiting Ditko to start to supercharge the series with the introduction of Dormammu and Clea (albeit to remain unnamed for well over a year afterwards) and longer stories and a significant change to Strange’s costume.
Interesting that the ad pages are all for those newer titles named after the characters starring in them, from the FF through the X-Men, but not for any of the older former mystery/monster titles, like Strange Tales itself, but now starring Thor, Iron Man, and Giant-Man & the Wasp. Apparently, they were even lower on the totem pole than even X-Men & Sgt. Fury. At least until Kirby supercharge the the main Thor series and within two years Journey into Mystery became the first of the old titles to be renamed for the starring character. By which time I think Thor had leapfrogged over the Avengers to join the FF & ASM among Marvel’s top three titles.
“The Dr. Strange feature, meanwhile, is simply trudging along, awaiting Ditko to start to supercharge the series with the introduction of Dormammu and Clea” Nuh-uh. Even in a minor story like this it was never just trudging along. And certainly superior to anything else at Marvel besides the Big Two.
I’m unclear about the Hate-Monger connection though, as your second post seems to say no, it was never the Hate-Monger.
I could easily believe that Stan simply chose to recycle the use of the Hate-Monger’s vehicle because he thought it was the sort of neat thing kids would like to see, and a bit of a bonus in what even he probably knew was a rote story.
One thing I liked about Rabble Rouser’s rhetoric: he keeps claiming that the Torch thinks himself above the law. This was not dissimilar to some of the arguments of Frederic Wertham against superheroes and crime comics, and Stan MAY have remembered fulminating against the anti-comics crusade a few times back in The Day. Would he have remembered FW’s association with Leftie ideology? Who knows?
The idea of a solo Torch feature sounds a lot like something Martin Goodman might have demanded. He might not have understood why sixties kids were buying a weird book like FANTASTIC FOUR, but once it was successful, he might have insisted that Lee try to duplicate the success of the Golden Age Torch. Of course, it also COULD have been Lee’s idea. But while he promoted lots of crossovers, I don’t think Lee liked using characters in two ongoing serials at the same time, because it could lead to editorial headaches. In his own strip the Torch couldn’t do anything, just like the “big guns” of THE AVENGERS couldn’t have any interesting developments. I’ve always thought that was why Lee exiled most of the big guns from AVENGERS early in the series, keeping only Captain America, who didn’t yet have a solid series.