Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Can't We Be Friends? Tales to Astonish 100

Tales to Astonish #100 (February 1968)
"Let There Be Battle!"
Stan Lee-Marie Severin/Dan Adkins

Doug: You don't mind if I submit Exhibit A in the conversation of "The Cover Was Way Better Than the Book", do you? Today's review has as its subject a comic I've long wanted to read -- the cover does it for me, right? About a year ago I picked up the second paperback volume of the Marvel Masterworks Incredible Hulk. I now have reprints of the original 6-issue series as well as the entire Tales to Astonish run. What I'd love to do is get my hands on affordable reprints of the Hulk ongoing that commenced during Marvel's expansion on the cusp of the Bronze Age. Anyway, I read this story around a week ago in preparation for today's presentation. I think we have a case here of the cover being so enticing that it really would be tough for the interiors to hold up. So why...?

Doug: To begin, my judgement of the book is framed not by any first impression. The title is typical late-Silver Age bombast from Stan Lee, and the splash page is interesting if overly crowded by text boxes (a whopping seven of them -- count 'em!). Hey, here's a great comic book question for you, that sort of ties into current events: You know how there's political talk that Americans (and citizens of other nations, too) have ceded some of their civil rights in the post-9/11 world, what with all of the surveillance cameras that permeate our public spaces? That cannot be a 21st century phenomenon, can it? Here we see Namor checking out the Hulk in the American southwest, and you know Dr. Doom, Reed Richards, the Avengers, and lord knows who else were always on some visi-screen creeping on a guy (good or bad). My impression of this mag was really carved out by the first half of the story. It's just such a fabricated story -- it certainly smacks of "Hey, it's our 100th ish, and what would you think of having the stars of both halves of the book tussle in a full-length brouhaha?!" Let me give those of you who've not read it a few specifics --

Doug: Namor decides to ally with the Hulk, basically because he'll be twice as menacing with the Green Goliath beside him. He swims off in search of ol' Greenskin, but encounters an experimental hydrofoil that fires on him. Game on. The ship's crew radios their "master", and we don't have to wait to see who it is -- it's none other than the Puppet Master. And what a rendition of Phillip Masters Mirthful Marie Severin gives us! Wow, man -- imagine if Mr. Clean, Lex Luthor, and Wilson Fisk somehow had a child (I know...blech!!). And to make it worse, the get-up he wears, with the big "P" on the front. Oh, my. So Masters is mad that Namor mixed it up with the sailors and ended up wrecking the hydrofoil he was in the process of stealing. Revenge, revenge, revenge -- because that's what super-villains do. Masters decides, since the Hulk is on the news, that he'll craft a puppet of that beast and use him to pay back the Sub-Mariner. So long story short, this is how our two combatants are brought together. The cover touts this yarn as an epic 22 pages (double-sized from the usual 10-pagers enjoyed by Hulk and/or Sub-Mariner fans); Namor and the Hulk fight for 16 of those pages! If I was 10, I'd be beside myself. But as a stodgy middle-aged connoisseur of slugfests, not so much. I should mention that as the Puppet Master gains control of the Hulk, Rick Jones gets mildly knocked around by the purple pantsed one. This of course continues the running subplot of "Thunderbolt" Ross and Major Glenn Talbot needing just one more reason to persecute the Jade Giant.

Doug: OK, so what was not to love? Severin's art was fine. She was never one of the top shelf talents in Marvel's bullpen, at least to my eyeballs. But she was solid and steady -- certainly capable and she delivered the goods here. The fight scenes have some power, emotion, and even a little tension. A criticism I'd make is that she draws the Hulk on the small side -- in fact I'd argue that she draws him smaller here than even the Thing should be drawn. If the accepted tale-of-the-tape for Monster-Banner was 7 feet tall and 1000 pounds, then this Hulk looks closer in size to his alter ego. She also does a nice job of conveying that Namor is generally out-classed by his adversary, and thus does a good job of changing locales of the battle, being sure to incorporate some water scenes. Her various facial expressions are nicely rendered.

Doug: So it's not Marie. It must be Stan's script then. And here is where I think my problem rests. We have a 22-page story with a 10-page plot. I really think that this possibly could have been designed for one half of the book and then Stan decided to fill it out to a cover-to-cover clash of titans. I'm not keen on the Puppet Master as the catalyst, either. C'mon -- a grade-Z baddie? Why bother? All Namor would have to do is look at the Hulk wrong and they'd start fighting. So that the Puppet Master was employed didn't get it with me. Stan's script overall just wasn't up to his Silver Surfer, or Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man that he'd have been writing at the same time. Nope -- this effort seemed like it came from a guy who viewed the assignment as perhaps down his list of things to do. So while this wasn't the worst story I've ever read, I think I'm just so colored by my expectations of the potentiality.

Doug: But that's a sweet cover, isn't it?


Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, that is certainly a nice-looking cover. And generally I like the art samples you posted. I tend to like Marie Severin's work, although in some places better than others (she was really fantastic when doing humor stories, and I love her inks over big brother John's pencils). It's quite good here, and as you noted, her rendering of facial expressions is top-notch. But yes, Hulk is way too small.

Redartz said...

Nice review, Doug, and a nice cover,indeed. Plus, an echo to the praises for Marie Severin's work; part of what made "Not Brand Echh" so enjoyable. This issue would have been right before the title split into Submariner #1 and Hulk's solo book, was it not?

Doug said...

Redartz --

I believe there was a #101, and the Hulk solo began with #102. Subby went into the Iron Man and Sub-Mariner one-shot and then into his own book. Those early John Buscema issues are a joy.

Thanks for the kind words, guys! I really wanted to like this issue. I just felt that the execution could have been handled better. Seek out our review of Sub-Mariner #8. The Namor/Thing tiff was handled much better.


dbutler16 said...

I read this story in a treasury Size hulk, and thought that the fight was pretty good, though the plot wasn't very original. I was not too crazy about the art. Marie Severin is not one of my favorites.

Martinex1 said...

Doug, I enjoyed your comments about the video cameras. Indeed, who was taping the Hulk in that situation and broadcasting it to Atlantis? That required some bonus pay beyond the normal news recording at hurricanes and big storms! I do like that convention of the Silver and Bronze ages; everybody from the Avengers to D List baddies like Mentallo had some kind of view screen that quickly brought the reader up to speed and rushed the characters into action.

This was one of my first readings of the Puppet Master. I always wondered what happened to him when I encountered him looking more bizarre, bug eyed, and skeletal. Here he reminds me of Zarrko from early Marvel Team Ups. There sure are a lot of bald villains running around. I guess the "P" on his shirt is better than "PM"

I do like the action panels here, but like you said it was just stretched too long.

david_b said...

Funny as it is.., this floppy is actually on my list to get in 2016. Thanks for the super review.

pfgavigan said...


I think the Puppet Master's involvement in the plot had more to do with Lee's desire not to blame either Namor or the Hulk for initiating the fight. The idea of them being manipulated into a conflict absolved both of them from seen, by the reader, as responsible for whatever damage might occur.

That's only my opinion and who knows, it might even be right.

Thanks for putting up some of Stan's work, very appropriate on his ninety-third birthday !! (I had to use explanation points at the end of that sentence, it just seemed appropriate.)



Doug said...

Thanks for the comments, fellas.

And of course it's a happy 93rd birthday wished to The Man himself today. Question: Is Stan the last of the Golden Agers left with us?


PS: Where the heck is HB? I put one right in his wheelhouse today and he's AWOL. Hope things out DC way are OK.

Doug said...

And speaking of Stan's birthday, how about shopping for alumni gear from the Stan Lee University store? Looks like a fun screen. Not sure I'm in the market, but I do consider myself an alum!


Redartz said...

Yess! A big birthday salute to Stan the Man! Doug, those are some cool 't's. Just wish I could find a diploma to go with them...

Anonymous said...

Happy 93rd birthday Stan! Wow ....

Heh if Stan was lecturing when I was at university maybe I woulda paid more attention! Imagine Stan pontificating on the Avengers - 'now listen up true believers! We're gonna discuss the political ramifications and social relevance of Captain America when they found him frozen in that block of ice! Excelsior!' :)

Anyway, back to our topic. Like Dbutler16, I first read this in Hulk Treasury size #5 if I'm not mistaken; yes, if I was a 10 year old kid again I would have loved this epic fight between Subby and ol' greenskin. The plot is kinda thin, what with the puppet master taking control of the Hulk like that. You knew Stan wanted any excuse for these two powerhouses (and belligerent personalities!) to clash. I loved it, despite these flaws nevertheless.

- Mike ''till puppet master starts using Rogaine' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Oh man oh man oh man--!
It seems like every time there's a GREAT Hulk-centric post, it falls right smack on a heavy strike&load set day, and I have nary two minutes to pinch together to call my own! Sheesh!

Terrific post Doug, and much appreciated on my end, believe-me-do.

The cover is great-- among my favorites. But the story is indeed like eating 7-11 nachos--- just not a lot of "there" there upon close scrutiny. One thing I seem to remember is that both books in the month or two prior to this seemed to be building up to both characters crossing paths in their solo stories (I think there was a NYC setting happening for both)-- and then it just didn't occur that way. ALSO-- I believe Herb Trimpe was under Marie's wing at this point as well, 'cause boy, there are a couple of panels that make me think "Herb-channeling-Marie" as opposed to being Marie herself.

Ah golly, and with that, I've gotta go.

Oh yes-- 101 was indeed the last TtA issue-- and Asgard two-parter that was finished in Incredible Hulk #102.


R. Lloyd said...

I remember this one. I wish that artist, Marie Severin's Hulk had more of a run. I loved the epic battle and remember reading it several times in my youth. This battle got me interested in the character of the Hulk battling a sometimes stronger Sub-Mariner when on his own turf. Lots of great memories here. I even made my own Sub-Mariner action figure out of a few Mego action figures when I was young. I forget the details but after the Conan one was released, I used his gold bracelets to conjure up a Subby figure. Perhaps I used an Mr. Spock one to create this. It's so long ago I don't remember.

But I digress, back to this story. I loved it and it was one of my pivotal moments as a comics reader because I wanted to get every issue of the Hulk after reading that story.

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