STRANGE TALES #123 August 1964
Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky original artists
|If there was ever a comic book that sold itself to me on the basis of the cover alone, this wonderful Jack Kirby Komposition was the one! Just look at it! Evenly divided between two exciting features (for a refreshing change, as the good mystical Doctor found himself more often than not unfairly short-changed of the spotlight in his earliest days), and promising some intriguing guest-stars plus the debut of what was, back in the early days of the summer of 1964, a VERY appealingly named air-borne antagonist for the Torch! Wow! And a quick peek inside provided even MORE reason for me to plunk down my 12 cents for this undeniably star-studded edition of STRANGE TALES!!...|
|But why, you might ask, am I making such
an issue of selecting THIS particular comic
off the racks? After all, it's no secret
that by 1964, I was purchasing, with no questions
asked, EVERY title Marvel was publishing.
ALL the super-hero books, natch, but also
SGT.FURY, the 3 westerns, and...gulp...a
couple of Patsy Walker series, and good ol'
MILLIE THE MODEL, too!?! So, y'see, there
was never really any question I was going
to pick up the Beetle's high-flying first
appearance, now was there? Well, no--but
there WAS more to the actual circumstances
surrounding the purchase than that. Y'know,
I remember it like it was yesterday (cue
the flashback dissolve)...
In those halcyon days, I bought all my comics at Heisenbuttel's General Store, which was located about a mile away from my home in Yaphank (a tiny town on Long Island, sporting an Indian name--which translates, I believe, to "place you've never heard of"...). The store sported a set of massive and fully-packed wooden shelves to display their well-stocked selection of magazines, comics included. One evening, as summer was descending upon us, I was out riding my bike with some friends, and eventually, we found ourselves at Heisenbuttals. My buddies suggested we to go in and maybe buy a candy bar, some gum, chips, or a soda. Well, I never spent my money on such frivolous things as snacks--once you finish eating them, they're gone, after all. And besides, my parents were going to feed me for free at home! Nope, I saved my precious change for MORE important--and longer-lasting--things! And if you haven't figured out by now that that something was comics, well, welcome to the site! Haven't been here before, eh?...
Only, this particular visit was totally spontaneous, y'see, so I didn't have all my cash with me, just a few loose coins in my pocket--for an emergency, I guess. And when I went into the store, and my pals headed for the Hostess Twinkies and Bazooka bubble gum, I, of course, headed instead for the comics. I really didn't expect to find anything of interest there--the time when the books generally came in was still a few days off--but even then, old habits kicked in. Imagine my shock, then, when I was confronted with over a half-dozen big, bold, and brand-new Marvel Comics--and me with only enough money in my pocket to buy THREE!?! This, folks, was clearly that emergency I hinted at earlier!...
Well, the first two were no-brainers: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #15, featuring the Web-head's first go-round with Kraven the Hunter by the titanic team of Lee and Ditko, and FANTASTIC FOUR #29, featuring one of the most wonderfully atmospherically titled stories--AND drawn covers--ever, the immortal "It Started On Yancy Street" by the aforementioned Lee, this time in tandem with Jack Kirby and Chic Stone! NO WAY I'm going home without THOSE two instant classics, people!! But what to plunk down my remaining twelve pennies for? The Avengers facing "Their Darkest Hour" maybe? Time would prove that to be an extremely entertaining episode, after all. Then of course, you had Daredevil meeting the Owl for the first time in what was only his third issue, just as Thor and the Grey Gargoyle, Iron Man and the Unicorn, and Giant-Man and Colossus were facing one another for the first time as well. The X-Men, still published but six times a year at that point, had the month off, and while I'm not entirely sure what the Howlers were up to, I'm reasonably certain it had something to do with winning World War Two pretty much on their own, while the Kids were no doubt taming the Old West mostly by shooting guns outta outlaw's hands! As for Patsy and Millie, well, they never even came into the equation that evening--and besides, I said I had my friends along! I may've been a Marvel Madman, but I wasn't quite ready to be a Marvel Martyr!?!...("You buy GIRLS comics, Fred??"--no, I didn't need to deal with THAT loaded little query, believe me!...)
But when I snatched a copy of STRANGE TALES #123 from the racks and had it in my hot little hands, there was never any further question as to where my last 12 cents was going that night! Historically, right up to the time Jim Steranko took over the S.H.I.E.L.D. series later on in the sixties, I'd always considered STRANGE TALES to be--with generally good reason--a decidedly lower echelon Marvel title. All these years later, I'll stick by that assessment, but if any one issue stands out pre-Steranko, THIS is it! By golly--it's a veritable guest-star goldmine!! Loki--AND Thor--appearing with Dr. Strange? Unheard of! Crossovers into Doc's realm had never occurred before--and within the pages of Ditko's run in STRANGE TALES, never would again!! And while the Thing eventually went on to co-star with the Torch, as his feature inexplicably never quite managed to catch fire with readers (...sorry...), that particular point of desperation hadn't yet arrived when this issue was released, so Benjamin J. Grimm's participation in this episode was, at the time, seen as an additional treat. And then there was this Beetle fellow...
1964: Beatlemania. Remember? I may've mentioned it here at the site from time to time. Hey, I was certainly swept up in it's unbridled joyousness, so when I caught sight of this new-fangled villain's moniker, it grabbed me in a way Paste Pot Pete never had! And when I subsequently sneaked a peek at the splash page, once again good ol' Stan knew EXACTLY what I was thinking! Right under the title blurb, "The Birth of the Beetle!", came this coy disclaimer, "..And we DON'T mean the British singing sensations!!" No, Mr. Lee, I'm sure you didn't, but somehow I ALSO don't imagine that using the name "Beetle" for one of your characters was ENTIRELY coincidental either...
But forget about that for just a second--before that playful denial had had a chance to sink in entirely, I found my attention drawn to a longish line of copy located in one of the credit boxes. It read, "Illustrated by Carl Burgos (who was the first to draw the Torch way back in the Golden Age of Comics!)". Well, there you go--I'm sold yet AGAIN!! Because in a time when the oldest archival material being reprinted by either Marvel or DC came from the mid-to-late fifties--and having no access to the then-emerging comics fanzines phenomenon--ANYTHING that was somehow connected to that mysterious and majestic era when the original pantheon of colorfully costumed super-heroes were born had my full and complete attention! And, need I add, my last 12 cents!...
There was one further bonus, as it turned out. The Torch and Thing's escapade was set partially at the 1964 New York World's Fair--which probably meant virtually nothing to readers like Mark Evanier out in California and Tony Isabella in Ohio--but for me, situated a mere 50 miles away from the Fair grounds, an area I'd eventually visit close to a dozen times in the two years it was a going concern, well, seeing two members of the fabled Fantastic Four chasing a baddie down right in front of the far-famed Unisphere was a rare and delicious treat indeed! Yup, no question--THAT'S gonna be comic number three!..
Obviously, I still have fond feelings for this special issue--and yeah, I no doubt went back the very next day and bought up all the rest of the new Marvel releases (including PATSY WALKER--as long as I made sure no one was around to witness THAT particular purchase, of course!...). Y'know, I have absolutely ZERO memory of that transaction, but somehow, the night before when I was faced with what seemed at the time to surely be the toughest possible decision I was EVER likely to make (...ah, if only!...) has ALWAYS been indelibly etched in my mental file cabinet. It's no wonder then, that, even to this day, just looking at this cover makes me smile...
The BAD news? Neither story in STRANGE TALES #123 proved to be anything but average--at best--with only the various curiosity factors involved making it at all an interesting topic for discussion at this late date. Seeing the denizens of Asgard drawn, as a note on the splash page would have it, "in the somewhat different Ditko style! (In fact, it's SO blamed different, we're trying to hide it from Jolly Jack Kirby!)", would have been far more of a devotee's delight if Sturdy Steve's delicate pencils hadn't been steamrolled over by the heavy-handed inking of George Roussos (which, to be entirely fair to that unsung and dedicated craftsman, most likely came as the result of an impending and unforgiving deadline).
And Carl Burgos' art did little to enchant me, either--certainly far less than the genuine appreciation I felt for unique stylings of the Sub-Mariner's creator, Bill Everett, when I was initially introduced to HIS work six months earlier via DAREDEVIL #1. To say Burgos failed to render the Queens-based Fair grounds convincingly would be a polite understatement. The double-sized special, THE FLINTSTONES AT THE N.Y.WORLD'S FAIR, proved to be a far more authentic document, talking animals and all! Still, it was fun seeing Stan and Carl--AND their receding hairlines--pop up in the story's very last panel! And like Everett before him, this was originally scheduled as a one-shot return to his old stomping grounds for Burgos. But, like Wild Bill, the Torch's daddy would soon return to the Bullpen, though not for long--after a few more Torch tales and some Giant-Man episodes, off he went to conspire with Myron Fass to re-imagine (and totally shame the name of) CAPTAIN MARVEL! But, folks, THAT's another, far more painful story...
I guess, then, that the moral of THIS story is, if ever you discover an opportunity to glimpse Steve Ditko drawing the God of Thunder, grab it! It's guaranteed to last considerably longer than a Ring Ding, a Yodel, OR a box of Juicy Fruits, a fact I'll happily attest to!!...
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