Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Classics - Strange Tales #135

In 1965 Marvel Comics surprised fans by ending two long-running features.

Well, half-features.

Marvel had three "split" comics - Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense. Suspense was in good shape as home to both Iron Man and Captain America, but the other two comics lost two of the four features. Astonish kept the Hulk but lost my old favorite, Giant-Man. In his place, the Sub-Mariner took over.

But Strange Tales took an even more surprising turn. It kept Dr. Strange as the backup feature, but replaced the solo adventures of the Human Torch with a brand new version of Nick Fury.

Fury already had a comic of his own - Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos - but that was set during World War II. For this issue, we followed Fury into the "modern day" as he emulated the wildly popular spy genre (thanks to such stalwarts as James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and became Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I seem to remember thinking it was a bad idea. I liked Nick Fury, but I was a bigger fan of the Human Torch (especially since most issues also featured the Thing), and the spy thing seemed an odd fit.

All those concerns vanished immediately - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (with inker Dick Ayers) created an amazing, fast-paced story that crammed more action into 12 pages than most comics today manage in months.

They show Fury being recruited by the secret organization (the acronym stood for Supreme Headquarters for International Espionage Law Enforcement Division). They establish Life Model Decoys, the menace of the evil counterpart organization Hydra, SHIELD's flying cars, the Helicarrier (in a stunning full page splash) - and they toss in several assasination attempts along the way.

I was immediately sold on the idea, and the stories just got bigger and bolder as the months flew by.

The backup feature was worth the price of admission - Lee and Steve Ditko were taking Dr. Strange to new heights, as he began a quest to find the mysterious being known as Eternity, all while trying to avoid the minions of his enemies Dormammu and Baron Mordo.

This story is a small masterpiece, with plot twists, deadly attacks and loads of surprises, as Strange deals with a deadly trap.

By using continued stories and fast-paced adventures all jammed full of fantastic ideas and enemies, Strange Tales succeeded - even though it was an idea that shouldn't have worked. Could a super-spy and a magician share a comic?

But it was one of my favorites, thanks to the creative teams involved, all working at the peak of their powers. Great times!

Grade: A+



Anonymous said...

One of my favorite covers, Chuck. Thanks!!


Glen Davis said...

It does seem an odd mix, but it worked.