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Am I supposed to be scared of this guy? – Tales to Astonish #54

April 14, 2010

There was one thing that leapt to my mind when I first looked at this cover (sadly the cover is Jack Kirby’s only contribution to this ish), and it’s in answer to the question posed on the bottom, “Who is El Toro?”  My reply is another question – “Who the hell cares?”

I’m not a huge Hank Pym fan – in fact, this is currently the only pre-Hulk Tales to Astonish that I own.  But I bought it because, well, it’s Silver Age Marvel.  How bad can it possibly be?

It turns out El Toro is a super-villain/Latin American dictator, sort of a Rhino/Hugo Chavez hybrid, since, as Hank notes when seeing a news report on this guy, he’s a “Red.”  Plus he’s a little on the husky side, much like dear old Hugo.  I guess because he’s a bad guy and a head of state (of the fictional Santo Rico) in the Marvel Universe this makes him a poor man’s Doctor Doom.  A really poor man’s Doctor Doom, seeing how he’s rarely been heard from since this first appearance.  And the “super-villain” label might be a stretch on my part, since all El Toro does is place a pointy hat on his noggin and headbutt people.

With an ability like that, it’s really no wonder he was able to grind an entire nation under his heel.

So what’s the story in this Stan Lee and Don Heck effort?  Giant-Man/Ant-Man and the Wasp are called to Washington.  The Feds suspect that the election down in Santo Rico was crooked.  It’s not mentioned what made them believe this – apparently the fact that a man with a horned hat won was reason enough to think that there might have been shenanigans.  Our couple (and I like the idea of a romantically involved crime-fighting duo) heads down and they’re quickly identified by El Toro’s security forces.  Jan is captured and Hank is only able to swallow one growth capsule before the baddies get to him.  This cues a long fight and chase as El Toro’s henchmen try to gun a stuck-at-huge-size Giant-Man down.  El Toro even gets a solid headbutt in on our hero.  The whole scenario gives Stan the Man an opportunity to show off his vast Spanish vocabulary of gringo, carremba, viva and si.

Eventually Giant-Man uses his ant friends to locate and free Jan.  Utilizing the size-altering pills she had hidden in her purse they both break into El Toro’s HQ.  The villain tries one more headbutt – no one warned him, I guess, that you can’t fool Hank Pym twice – but winds up crashing through a window and getting hung up on a flagpole.  The indignity of that fate seems somehow fitting for this clown.  Giant-Man takes El Toro’s secret documents which show the commies bought the election and flings them out the shattered window, and the people of Santo Rico vow to overthrow the guy.  All is right with the world.

The backup stories are two Lee/Lieber shorts, one dealing with an art thief stealing a cursed painting and the other the Wasp telling a story to a kid she’s babysitting.  The former is pretty cool, the latter not so much.  I find that a lot of the backups in these old Marvel anthologies can be pretty hit and miss – these were no exception.

Despite my aforesaid indifference to the adventures of Hank and Jan, I liked this issue’s feature story a lot for the interplay between the hero duo and the fun of watching Giant-Man rumble around, but mainly for the preposterously stupid villain.  The phrase “so bad it’s good” seems quite apt here.  A cursory google search indicates that El Toro showed up years later in a few issues of West Coast Avengers.  I may have to hunt those down.

Oh.  My.  God.  I think I’m becoming an El Toro fan.

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