Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Classics - Tales to Astonish #70

By 1965 Marvel was really starting to hit on all cylinders, so fans were shocked when drastic changes happened in two of the three "split books" Marvel published.

Tales of Suspense continued to carry the adventures of Iron Man and Captain America, but over at Strange Tales, the Human Torch was booted out and the first half of the comic was handed over to a new concept - Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. But at least the Torch continued to star in the Fantastic Four.

Tales to Astonish had the most drastic change, as Giant-Man and the Wasp disappeared from the comic (and from The Avengers), and were replaced in "Tales" by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

It was a shocking development because Namor really wasn't a hero, not unlike the book's other star, the Hulk. In fact, I believe Namor was the first anti-hero to appear in comics.

He often fought the good guys, but he usually had a reason for his behavior - and in his "modern" version, he was portrayed as a regal character, with a code of honor.

It didn't hurt that Namor took over this comic just after his appearance in Daredevil #7, which I consider one of the greatest comics of all time (as mentioned here).

While I was a bit lukewarm to Namor moving into this comic at first, I was quickly won over by the quest storyline that writer and editor Stan Lee kicked off with this issue.

To prove his claim to the throne of Atlantis, Namor must find the Enchanted Trident of King Neptune - a quest that pits him against a number of monsters and menaces, with lots of court intrigue going on around the edges.

The amazing art was provided by some guy named Adam Austin - known better today, of course, as Gene Colan. His (dare I say it?) fluid artwork was a perfect match for the undersea adventures, even when saddled with an inker like Vince Colletta, whose style wasn't a good match at all.

Namor has always been a tricky character to handle - he's a hot-head, he's got a big ego, he tends to punch first and ask questions later - but this series in Tales to Astonish put him on the road to being a full-fledged, regal hero. There have been bumps in the road, but he's one of Marvel's oldest heroes, and he's earned his place in comics history.

In retrospect, it was good to see him finally getting the attention he deserved, even at the expense of a character I really liked - Giant-Man (who eventually returned to the Avengers as Goliath).

None of this is to take away from the back-up feature in the comic, as Lee teamed up with some guy named Jack Kirby for an over-the-top Hulk adventure, as Bruce Banner lies at death's door thanks to a bullet in the brain, and the Leader attacks with a 500-foot-tall indestructible Humanoid. Just another day in the desert.

For the next three years (or so) Namor and the Hulk shared half a comic before they finally graduated into their own titles - but that's a Classic review for another day.

Grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I missed this debut issue on the
stands, but within a year I was picking up every issue. The split
book concept was great, giving we
Marvel fans two features to enjoy
in one comic! I could never decide
SUSPENSE. Heck, they were ALL great, and as time went on, they even got better.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, I felt the same way, and I was actually a bit disappointed when Marvel did away with those "split" books.

Of course, these days comics stories are so decompressed that 10 pages would hardly get the character out the front door.

Anonymous said...

I was initially excited by the split features getting their own solo titles (the more the merrier, right?) but Marvel and the fans found out that some characters flourished with the extra pages, and some didn't quite shine sales-wise (Dr. Strange, Nick Fury) and other stalwarts such as Subby and Iron Man had their ups and downs, talent wise.
It was the first time this Marvel fan realized that everything Marvel did wasn't perfect, and that
the expansion meant very real growing pains.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, Very true! It also showed how much those books relied on the creative team. Without Steranko, Nick Fury sank quickly.

Interesting that half of those "split book" characters flourish today - Iron Man, Cap, Hulk - while the other three are mostly in supporting roles - Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner (though you could argue that "Secret Warriors" is really Nick's book).