Monday, September 29, 2014

What's So Golden (or Silver) About... Young Men 25?

Young Men #25 (February 1954) -- cover by Joe Maneely or Carl Burgos
"The Return of the Human Torch" -- Hank Chapman-Carl Burgos
"Top Secret" -- Scripter Unknown-John Romita, Sr.
"The Shark People" -- Scripter Unknown-Bill Everett

Doug: Did any of our readers secure the wonderful package of reprints that were for sale through the JC Penney Christmas catalog back in 1994? I actually snagged this set in a comics/sports memorabilia store in Anderson, IN maybe a year or so after that. From the Grand Comics Database, and speaking specifically of today's issue:
One of the 1994 JC Penney Marvel Vintage Pack reprints. These are second printings of Marvel comics from the 50's-70's. There are a total of 15 different comics in the set:

Amazing Adult Fantasy #13; Amazing Spider-Man Special [Annual] #5; Avengers #88; Captain America #109; Fantastic Four #66 & #67; Incredible Hulk #140; Sgt. Fury #13; Sub-Mariner #8; Thor Special [Annual] #2; Tomb of Dracula #25; X-Men #28, #62 #63; and Young Men #25.

Three issues are reprinted from reprints: Fantastic Four #66 is reprinted from Marvel's Greatest Comics #49; Sgt. Fury #13 is reprinted from Special Marvel Edition #11; and X-Men #28 is reprinted from X-Men #76.

This set of 15 comics was available through the 1994 JC Penney Christmas Catalog, for $14.99 plus shipping. The front covers of these comics look exactly like the originals, but inside, contain advertisements from 1994, except for Young Men #25, which has all the original inside ads. All of these reprints have the same back cover Stridex ad. "Second Printing" appears at the end of the indicia.

[Publication information from Roger Perez, STL COMICS web site,]
I'd strongly encourage you to visit the link just above. There were actually two other reprint sets of this nature, but the one we're dealing with today is by far the coolest (in this Bronze Age Baby's opinion).

Doug: It's strange how the creator credits for Young Men #25 are so sketchy, even down to the cover of the book. But nowhere could I find any hint that Stan Lee was the writer on any of the three stories we're going to examine. But it would be year's before readers could get their eyes on the names of those who crafted our favorite books. So armed with the limited information we have -- and I'm thankful we at least know who the pencilers were -- let's trudge ahead. But first, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is this: whenever I pick these decades-old books for some old school fun, it's usually with a Frederic Wertham-like sensationalism in mind. But as this issue would have seen print on the cusp of the DC Comics Silver Age, I think it behooves us to see if these three tales are more one-foot-in-WWII, or one-foot-in-the-Cold-War.

Doug: First up in the book is an 8-pager featuring the Human Torch and Toro. Of the three stories, this was probably most like the Golden Age stories. The artist is Carl Burgos, creator of the Torch, so I thought that was nice that after around a decade he was called back for the revival of Timely's Big Three (we'll see Sub-Mariner creator Bill Everett on the art chores in our third story).  Burgos's art had certainly evolved by the time this saw print, although I couldn't help but feel that this story was just an extension of what we'd seen in the Torch's first appearance. This is a gangster story, mashed right into an episode of The Twilight Zone (which would not premiere on American television for another five years!). There's been a spate of robberies around "the big city", all carried out by very young thugs. In fact, after some investigation, it turns out that all of the bad guys are 20 years old! The Torch and Toro arrive on the scene mid-crime and create a little havoc. After some gunplay and a little flame-spitting (has Johnny Storm ever done that?), one of the goons grabs a dame (Golden Age talk, you know) and puts his piece to her head. The Torches are forced to comply with an order to get into the bank's safe. The bad guys figure that since it's soundproof it must be air proof. And, since it's on a timed lock, the Torches will suffocate and that will be the end of them. By the way, no mention was ever made in this story that the Torch is an android -- a storyline that was abandoned not long into the character's run, from what I understand.

Doug: Of course the Torches flame their way out of the safe by melting through the thick door. A hasty pursuit later and the good guys have the bad guys corralled and dropped off at the local precinct. But the chief tells the Torch that he almost has no room for all of the young criminals. And he can't figure it out -- they are all young, none are professional gangsters, and they all seem to like being in jail! The Torches have no answers, so head back out on patrol. Flying through the night skies, they pass over a senior living home, where Toro's Uncle Julius was staying. But as they get closer, they see that it is boarded up. A quick investigation shows that it had to close for business due to no new old people! What?? The Torches do some further fact-finding and note that there don't seem to be very many old people in town anymore. This is going to require some undercover work.

Doug: Back at the police station, our heroes are outfitted in "old guy" clothes and some make-up and hit the streets. It isn't long before a young man stops the two "oldsters" and asks them if they'd like to be young. The fact is, he says, he was 70 years old only last week -- and now he's 20! The disguised Torches want to know more, so go along with their new ally. Soon they are on the outskirts of town in a large mansion. A Doctor Markov (gotta love that Soviet bloc-sounding name in these Cold War years) tells the assemblage -- mostly older men -- that he can give them the vitality of a young man. In exchange, all they have to do is promise to rob and steal for him, and be willing to go to jail. The benefit of this scheme is, they are told, that as first-time offenders they won't be sentenced to more than five years behind bars. Once released, they will have the life of a 25-year old ahead of them! The old men begin to clamor to be first. Among those present is Toro's uncle. A few of the men go through the transformation, and then it's the Torches turns. Jim Hammond allows himself to be strapped into the machine, but right before the switch is thrown, he flames on and goes for the doctor while Toro moves against the young hood who brought them to the mansion. But as Toro flames on, the goon calls him his nephew! The guy they'd met on the street is Uncle Julius! The Torch binds Markov into the machine and threatens to do the switch on him, unless he fesses up to why he wants the guys to do the crime. Turns out that the men will only be 20 years old for 30 days -- after that, they turn to dust! Upon hearing that, Toro's uncle loses it and fires his gun. Despite a warning to stop unless he hits the high-voltage machine, one more bullet is fired -- and the place goes up. And up and away go the Human Torch and Toro, safely removed from the explosion.

Doug: The Captain America story was the weakest of the three, but seems a novelty due to the pencils of John Romita. The Jazzy One wasn't all that jazzy here, but you can see some flashes of the sort of work he'd do on Amazing Spider-Man a little over a decade hence. This iteration of Captain America is of course that of the commie-smasher. The gist of this story is that the Americans have developed an atomic cannon, and they need to keep its secrets from falling into the hands of spies. Bucky tells "Prof." Steve Rogers that Captain America is being paged through the newspapers, so Cap and his young sidekick enter our story in an effort to thwart the so-called Executioner (no, not that big Asgardian oaf). Top scientist Jim Slade is the only guy who knows the secrets of the firing pin for the cannon. After a greeting with Cap and Bucky, Slade declares that he's off to Las Vegas to meet his girl. After his departure, Cap is shown a picture of the lady -- and immediately recognizes her as Lupa Lupoff, Red spy!

Doug: Our heroes head to Vegas to stop the shenanigans that they know are coming. Trouble is, they're too late, as Lupoff and her assistant have drugged Slade. The good guys arrive to find Slade being driven away. They attack, but a little gunplay ensures that Slade is lost to them at this time. Cap beats up a couple of toughs, and they remark to each other how they fear for their lives at the hands of the Executioner, because they've failed to stop Cap. But, just down the street there's a booby trap, and two other guys are able to detonate a bomb, potentially killing the Star-Spangled (not yet) Avenger! We cut then to the desert, near where an A-bomb test is about to go off. Slade's strapped to a cactus, while Lupoff and her dude-friend interrogate him for the firing pin secret. He basically tells them to take a flying leap. But then they, too, begin to worry about the Executioner should they fail to extract the secret from Slade. But just then Bucky arrives and takes out the dude. But Lupa's having none of it, and pistol whips James Barnes.


Doug: Now tied up with Slade, it looks like it's curtains -- until Captain America arrives to save the day! Turns out his shield had saved him from the blast. Cap tears into Lupa's man, and then in the melee Lupa turns her gun on the guy and kills him! With his dying breath he looks at his woman and says that she is the Executioner! And she is -- punishing those who fail, including herself as she takes her own bullet. With the threat now ended, the boys regroup to watch the A-bomb test. Cap says, "A glorious sight... when it's on our side in the struggle for world peace!"


Doug: Bill Everett's art in the Sub-Mariner feature is the most sophisticated in this book -- it's just beautiful. The crime set-up is that people are jumping into or falling into the ocean, with many bodies washed ashore horribly mutilated. It looks to be shark attacks. We see a crowd scene, where the denizens of Battery Park await the Staten Island ferry. Suddenly a woman pushes through the crowd and leaps into the water. A man goes in after her, but surfaces with nothing but her clothes -- no other sign of the woman. The police are dumbfounded, as this has become a trend. In an apartment on the East side, Betty Dean and Namor, the Sub-Mariner, read the papers. Betty tells Namor of the goings on. Namor decides, because it doesn't all fit, that he will investigate.

Doug: Later that evening, Namor is down on the docks by the river. He finds a bum, badly disfigured. Namor calls the authorities (there is no sign in this story of Namor's past problems with the surface world) and talks to the detective that shows up. The guy insists that a shark did it. Namor dives into the water to check it out, but decides that the water is too cold for sharks. However, out in the ocean a small pleasure vessel is capsized -- and the men aboard are eaten alive. Later, a Coast Guard boat picks up the wreckage, and later after that several bodies are found on shore. Namor is there again to investigate, but says he's still stymied. A weird-looking guy on the beach offers a hypothesis about the sharks, but Namor casts it away. That night, Namor walks the beach, looking for any clue he can muster. Suddenly the same strange man from that afternoon appears, removes his clothes, and walks into the ocean. Too offbeat for the Avenging Son, Namor dives in after him. Namor finds no sign of the man beneath the waves, but he very soon encounters a Great White shark. The beast bears down on Namor, but the crown prince is too fast -- he grabs the lower jaw of the fish and breaks it, King Kong style! You might have guessed -- soon after, the police find the body of a man washed ashore, his jaw horribly disfigured. I had to chuckle a bit, as the cop on the beach remarked about the horrible death the guy must have had. Namor says that before they call it a murder, there should be some further investigation. But later in the same panel, Namor suggests that they can file it as a homicide. Strange doings -- was the Sub-Mariner indicting himself in the man's/shark's demise?

Doug: Later in the week, Namor is again on the beach at night looking for clues. A woman suddenly emerges from the waters. She's startled when she sees Namor, who hints at a theory he's developed about these strange goings-on. She's way too apprehensive, though, and turns on Namor. She lunges for him, but he evades and pins her to the ground. Letting her back up, she then narrates (in a whole lot of words) the explanation for our mystery, followed by its resolution -- you can find these panels at the bottom of the post. Too many art samples today, and to be honest -- I just couldn't get them to fit nicely together!

Doug: So where does this fit into this gray area between the Golden and Silver Ages? There are many elements of the 1940's -- teen sidekicks, lots of gunplay, and some serious violence (a woman is pistol-whipped in the Human Torch story). But the science fiction angles in both the Torch and Sub-Mariner tales place this a bit more toward the Silver Age. Of course, Cap's Red Scare-centered adventure falls right in between. I'd say this, though -- compared to the first few DC stories, including the Flash revival and subsequent stories, there's a lot more EC-type storytelling in Young Men #25 than we'll see only a short time later. Maybe that's why the revival of the Timely super-heroes didn't take off -- what is told here (and I'll have to assume in the other magazines that bore these new adventures) really doesn't require the presence of super-heroes for any resolution. The mad scientist in the first story could have just as easily been defeated by a Dick Tracy-type of character, and that holds true for the Cap tale. Namor, of the three, seemed most integral to the actual yarn that was spun. And what of the Comics Code Authority? Well look very closely back up at the cover -- notice the tiny star near the top left side of the book. In that little shape it says, "Conforms to the Comics Code". I guess as long as we don't have zombies or werewolves, we're good...


Garett said...

Nice to see Romita's early art here. Everett's art looks great.

Doug said...

Thanks, Garett!

I thought Burgos's art was the weakest of the three, but still much improved over his earlier stuff. Being a Bronze Age Baby, I'm a sucker for Toro and Bucky, so really enjoyed seeing them (particularly Toro) in action. He never called the Torch "Pappy", however. Was that a Roy Thomas idea? I have no clue if that affectionate term of address was used in the Golden Age.

Romita seems to me to be struggling between playing this straight -- very illustrative -- and retaining a bit of a cartoony look. I really prefer the instances where you can see what he would become a few years later.

And agreed on Everett -- really, really nice.


Garett said...

I was at the Edmonton Comic Expo yesterday, and a dealer started talking to me about how much he liked Bill Everett's art from the 40s and 50s. So it's fun to see your review today. I know just a bit of Everett's work from the Bronze Age, and a few pages I've seen from earlier times.

I also met artist Mike Mayhew. Friendly, chatty guy. He had some beautiful penciled pages of a WW1 story, and other superhero pages done in ink wash. Very nice, in an Alex Ross type of style. Also of interest, he recently finished an 8-part comic series called The Star Wars, from the original draft of Star Wars by George Lucas.

Edo Bosnar said...

Romita's art is really interesting - it seems like he was really influenced by Milt Caniff at that point. The style he eventually developed was certainly quite different from this.
But that story is something else all together. Calling a mushroom cloud a "glorious sight" just boggles the mind.

Doug said...

Edo --

I do love the "slice of life" aspect of this book! It's just such a time capsule for the 1950s, and not in a Happy Days kind of way.


Anonymous said...

Namor lounging around the living room in what appears to be a bowling shirt.
You wouldn't catch Victor Von Doom doing that.
It's probably a good thing Subby got amnesia and forgot all about this.

Martinex1 said...

What an eclectic group of comics that JC Penney chose to release. I had no idea these reprints exist. Doug, do you have any idea if there was a common element or theme in their selection? I cannot spot one off the top. To echo the others - I really enjoy Everett's work. I have not read a large amount of Golden Age offerings, but the femme fatale seems to be very common. On another note I love the "..poor deluded fish" dialogue. I will have to start using that.

Martinex1 said...

Wow - the depth and detail in the backgrounds are very nice. In Sub-Mariner story the surf and the ripples and the shadows underwater are complicated. I cannot think of anybody in recent times that does that much. Also, I notice in the Golden Age, villains don't have a long lifespan. They all end up dead at the end - whether enemy agents, old folks trying to be young, or shark people. They really had hard endings. Not like modern times when nobody dies (and if they do it is only for 6 months).

Gary said...

I bought this set from my LCS back in '94 or '95. A great group of comics.

Rip Jagger said...

The thing that always knocks me out about the Marvel stories of this era is just how much ahead of everyone else Bill Everett is. His artwork (as you point out) is downright sophisticated compared to the energetic and robust but less developed work in other stories. There's a polish and finesse that just isn't found in most comics of this era.

By the 60's he still had the polish, but his storytelling was not as singular.

Rip Off

Fred W. Hill said...

Interesting that the Human Torch so dominated the cover, even over Captain America. The Siver Age and beyond would have been quite different if this revival had taken off, but it's not all that surprising as none of the stories seem all that different from what Timely might have published 10 years earlier, except that now Cap & Bucky were fighting Commies rather than Nazis. The failure of Timely's Big Three to set comics fandom ablaze in '54 likely made Stan reluctant to try again with them in '61, although he did launch a new version of the Torch. Maybe it was a bit of desperation and Lee and Kirby being a few years older and each having first hand experience with the ups and downs of the comics business that made them willing to try something just different enough from what everyone else was doing with their new set of superheroes that made the difference in 1961.

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