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?