Thursday, 21 May 2015

Strange Tales #153 - Marvel Comics

STRANGE TALES No. 153, February 1967
The influence of the mid-Sixties superspy craze, itself inspired by the “James Bond” movies and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” American television series, is abundantly clear throughout this comic’s lead feature “The Hiding Place!” Indeed Roy Thomas would seem to have tried to cram within the narrative’s twelve-pages as many secret agent gimmicks and gadgets as the ‘seldom-surpassed scriptwriter’ could think of. Why else would a newspaper which suddenly crackles into a two-way communications monitor, a flying car, an identity changing machine and even a ‘magni-force repulsing saucer’ all feature within this short action-packed tale?

Admittedly such corny, pulp fiction-based references as Agent ‘O’, “the ultimate hiding place”, “the Hydra-piller” and “the new space warp missile” come across as being somewhat unsophisticated hokey. But such innocent contrivances are easily forgotten as the fast-paced storyline rushes from a catastrophic car chase to a furious firefight within the space of few pages as Hydra once again attempt to infiltrate the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), and all attention is focussed upon the exploits of Colonel Nick Fury and his stalwart companion Dum Dum.

Dishearteningly such a tensely frantic tale surprisingly suffers from some regrettably lack-lustre artwork. With many of the figures, most notably that of the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., all appearing to have rectangular-shaped one-dimensional heads. Something which starkly contrasts to the rest of their body’s dynamic animation. Such a criticism is doubling disappointing when the “seldom-lacking layouts” have been sketched by the legendary Jack Kirby, and the “seldom-rivalled rendering” completed by innovative illustrator Jim Steranko.

Arguably even more relentlessly intense however is this comic’s Doctor Strange adventure, “Alone, Against The Mindless Ones!” A “stupefying story by spellbinding Stan Lee” which hurls the Master of the Mystic Arts into a brutal ten-page long no-holds barred battle against “the most brutal man-beasts in all the cosmos!”

Fans of the Sorcerer Supreme will doubtless have been delighted with the iconic writer’s inclusion of the Cloak of Levitation, the Eye of Agamotto and the former neurosurgeon’s curse “by the Hoggoth’s Hoary Hosts”. But probably less happy with the clunky nonsensical plot which sees the Earth’s primary protector against magical and mystical threats foolishly investigate a blinding beam of supernatural light rather than simply fly over an army of Mindless Ones and reach safety. Indeed the Will Eisner Award Hall of Famer’s storyline defies logic on several occasions for the sake of a few more thrilling pages, as Strange first allows himself to be beaten half-senseless by "his inhuman attackers" in order to recover "his former strength" and then later "hypnotically take(s) the form of a mindless one"? 

Equally as perplexing are the “inconceivable illustration(s) by mystical Marie Severin”, which though packing plenty of punch (literally) sadly lack any sort of consistent quality; appearing impressively reminiscent of the good Doctor's creator Steve Ditko one moment and then amateurishly misshapen in the next.
Scripting: Roy Thomas, Layouts: Jack Kirby, and Rendering: Jim Steranko

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