Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Classics - Tales to Astonish #60

In the history of comics, it's typical for more than one comic book character to appear in an anthology title, but I think Marvel was the first to make extensive use of the "split" comic, where two characters who have little in common share the issue equally.

Part of the reason was because Marvel was limited in how many comics it could get distributed each month. A split comic gave the reader two characters to choose from - if he or she didn't like one character, perhaps they'd like the other.

There were three comics that featured a double-billing: Tales of Suspense hosted Iron Man and Captain America; Strange Tales featured the Human Torch (later replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD) and Dr. Strange; and Tales to Astonish featured Giant-Man and, starting with this issue in 1964, the Hulk.

Sadly, the stories didn't always live up to the promise. The Giant-Man story in this issue, for example, is mighty weak. An FBI Agent is captured by the Commies, so Giant-Man races to the rescue. Along the way he has to fight a small army of intelligent gorillas - and that's all you need to know. It's not Stan Lee or artist Dick Ayers' finest moment.

The Hulk story is only a little better - thanks in no small part to the classic team of Lee and Steve Ditko. The story focuses on a new invention by Bruce Banner - an indestructible suit of armor that is hijacked by a spy. Can even the Hulk stand against a creature that can't be hurt? But because of the page limitations, the story is just getting going when we get to the "To Be Continued" line.

As a kid, I loved the split books, and they're still a nostalgic treat. But as a grownup, I find I don't care for them as much. Ten pages just doesn't give the story much time to get going, and the books didn't really take off until the continued story became a common storytelling tool.

But even if the stories were shaky, the characters were wonderful - I wish Giant-Man and the Wasp will one day receive the kind of care and storytelling that they deserve.

Grade: C+


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