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The Mighty Thor vs. The Socialist Utopia – Marvel Tales #5

September 20, 2011

A while back I vowed to look at an issue of Marvel Tales, the title that introduced the young me to the wonders of the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man. And here we are, with one of the earliest editions. They’re oversized treasure troves of delight, reprinting multiple stories from the Golden Age of Marvel’s Silver Age. Just look at the selection of wares offered on the cover. A dash of Ditko Spider-Man. A pinch of Kirby Thor. A dollop of the Human Torch. A clove of Ant-Man. Hell, you even have the Wasp in Time-Life Operator headgear.

It’s gold, Jerry. Gold.

There’s an added thrill in reading these reprints, so close as they were to the original publication and still well within the rosy aurora of the best of times. It’s as if Lee and co. in throwing all these together were saying to their readers “Can you believe this? Can you really believe that we’ve done all this great shit?” Even in this warmed over hash you can pick up on the energy of those days. It was a different time and the markets have undergone a sea change, but they sure as hell didn’t need some lame-ass 52 relaunch to move product back then.

You could pick any of the offerings here and come away sans disappointment. I was tempted to simply let some coin flips decide which I’d dig into, but one won my heart. Because of that, and though it feels weird, I’m going to steer clear of the Amazing Spider-Man (#8) reprint herein, which re-offers Spidey battling a runaway robot (a bit of a theme for the guy) and his own teenage angst.

Ah, what the heck. Here’s Peter Parker decking Flash Thompson:

Ditko’s always struck me as a rather humorless chap (*cough* Mr. A *cough*), but things like this make me reevaluate that assessment.

Okay. On to business. The true gem in this cache is the rich fare of the Journey into Mystery (#87) reprint. One can’t go wrong wading through any of Thor’s early adventures, and finding a good Kirby-drawn Thor story is about as easy as throwing a ball into the ocean. It’s a universal truth, even in the early stages, when the character was still getting his legs. Though the off-the-wall Asgardian elements hadn’t yet been fully introduced in all their glory at this point, there’s a zaniness in watching the God of Thunder handle more Earthbound, mundane heroic tasks. The Frost Giants and trolls could wait.

And what was the greatest threat to the mid-century Western world’s psyche? The one that would grab ahold of an audience? Why, communism, of course! Yes, in this tale Thor wallops dirty goddamn commies with Mjolnir. Joe McCarthy would have been so proud.

“The Prisoner of the Reds”! (Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers) starts with a number of American scientists disappearing, leaving awkward notes in their wakes:

I like how even the notes carry the OLD TIMEY EXCLAMATION POINTS! And can a John leave a “Dear John” letter? Is that kosher?

The disappearances make the news and reach the eyes and ears of Dr. Donald Blake. Being a good, patriotic American with godly powers, he resolves to get to the bottom of it all. He gets the sanction of a connected friend at the Pentagon (“Yeah, Don, whatever you want…”) and sets up his own Paul Newman/Robert Redford sting. A shifty looking photographer shows up to look at the biological weapon he’s (falsely) publicized that he’s working on, and Blake gets a face full of gas:

Random scientists working willy-nilly on biological weapons. Comforting thought.

Blake is smuggled to some random fortress far behind the Iron Curtain, where he’s thrown in the clink with the other kidnapped scientists. Thank God his apparatchik captors decide to separate them AND let Blake keep his walking stick — the kindly, cooperative commies!:

Thor starts unleashing Holy Hell, and one of the poor guards makes an entertaining observation about his chosen weapon:

The fortress is outfitted like the hideout of a James Bond villain, including a (laser beam-less) shark tank:

Thor is captured when the dirty rotten Reds threaten to kill the prisoners if he doesn’t surrender, and they strap him into their handy Norse God Immobilizer (“And you said we’d never use it!”):

What’s that guy doing? Reveling in his triumph? Is he smitten? Admiring his shave? What?

No matter. He obligingly leaves his prisoner alone, and Thor changes into Blake and slips his shackles and reclaims his hammer. Oops. After he frees the scientists and gets them to safety, a timely editor’s note lets us know how Thor is going to end this little drama:

His work done, the fortress razed and the disciples of Marx and Lenin cowed, Thor returns home and the sexually frustrated Donald Blake is left chomping on his pipe (sometimes a pipe is just a pipe) as Jane Foster dreams of Thor’s bare biceps:

What are we to make of this one? Thor, five issues into his Marvel career, had yet to find his groove. The arch dialogue, the (for the most part) ditching of the good doctor alias and the going-for-broke fantasy would be what made the character a lasting success. But seeing Goldilocks as the champion of the Free World, cracking the skulls of troglodytic, propogandized Cold War enemies, has a unique charm. It’s one of the more rollicking anti-communist screeds you’ll ever read, and I’m now going to rank it right alongside Rocky IV on my list of guilty pleasures. I’m fairly certain that this is the only one out there that has a hammer-summoned thunderstorm denoument.

Anyway. Make Mine Marvel Tales!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Larry E permalink
    September 22, 2011 10:29 pm

    That last panel makes her look like The Puppet Master in drag.

    • September 24, 2011 7:36 pm

      True. Kirby’s women always have a certain “Crying Game” feel to them. I think it’s the brows.

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