Strange Tales (Vol. 1) 1963 Year In Review

Image taken from Strange Tales #111

How Many Issues?

Thirteen: Strange Tales #104-115 and Strange Tales Annual #2. The Human Torch is the lead feature in all of these issues, and Doctor Strange is featured in Strange Tales #110-111, 114-115.

Creative Team:

The Human Torch stories:

Plotter: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (#104-105, 108-109, 114, Annual 2)

Scripter: Larry Lieber (#104-107), Robert Bernstein (#108-109), H.E. Huntley (#110-111), Jerry Siegel (#112-113), Stan Lee (#114-115, Annual 2)

Penciller: Jack Kirby (#104-105, 108-109, 114, Annual 2), Dick Ayers (#106-107, 110-113, 115)

Inker: Dick Ayers (#104-115), Steve Ditko (Annual 2)

The Doctor Strange Stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

Scripter: Stan Lee

Penciller: Steve Ditko

Inker: Steve Ditko

Was It Good?

This title was pretty awful in 1963. The Human Torch is easily the most obnoxious Marvel character at this point, and his featured stories just emphasize his worst tendencies. There were many inconsistencies (how characters acted, how the Torch’s powers worked, etc.) from issue to issue; this is probably due to five different people receiving scripting credits that year. Dick Ayers inked every issue and pencilled seven, so at least there was consistency with the artwork.

The Doctor Strange stories in 1963 are all very short, ranging from 5-8 pages and including a splash page. That’s not much space for a good story. Not surprisingly, these brief stories are simple and kind of dull. Steve Ditko’s artwork is pretty good, with the weirder aspects of the story highlighting his talents.

What About the Sub-Plots and Continuity?

It can be fun to track the minor story points throughout a year’s worth of comics to see what ideas were developed and which were quietly dropped.

The Human Torch Stories:

  • The Human Torch faced off against the following villains in 1963: The Acrobat (twice), the Asbestos Man, the Eel, the Fox, Namor, the Painter, Paste-Pot-Pete (twice), Plant Man, the Sandman, the Sorcerer, and the Wizard (twice).
  • The Torch can create flame duplicates of himself. The abilities of these duplicates varies wildly; in #106, the duplicate can only stand in place if the Torch isn’t present, but the duplicate in #104 is able to track a villain independently of the Torch.
  • Johnny Storm spent the first few issues of 1963 trying to hide his superhero identity from the people in his hometown. This subplot was thankfully dropped when it turned out that he wasn’t fooling anyone; everyone in town knew that he was the Human Torch, but played along with his “secret identity” to be nice.
  • The Fantastic Four is bizarrely inconsistent regarding when they choose to help the Torch on his solo adventures. Sue is sometimes willing to help, but shrugs her shoulders and says “boys will be boys” at other times; Reed and Ben will sometimes insist that Johnny learn to handle his own problems, but at other times jump in to help him with easier villains without him requesting the help.
  • Asbestos was used to battle the Torch seven times in 1963. Is there anything more overused in the Silver Age than asbestos to thwart Johnny?
  • Johnny’s powers are all over the place in 1963. He can burn hot enough to stay aflame underwater, but he can also be doused by the dew from plants and not be able to flame on. He can have twice the strength of a normal man, thanks to residual heat, or he might have to rely on judo to fight the Sandman. He can construct flaming saws, scissors, and scythes to cut things; he can also construct complex things, like a flaming catapult that doesn’t burn what it is tossing. He can even make smoke rings with physical substance. None of it makes sense.
  • Torch quits the Fantastic Four briefly. It lasts less than an issue.
  • The Torch picks fights with the Sub-Mariner and, later, Spider-Man; the only reason Johnny survived those fights is because Namor and Spidey weren’t trying to seriously hurt him.
  • The Human Torch and Spider-Man have their first meeting at the Statue of Liberty. This becomes their standard meeting place.
  • Johnny gets a steady girlfriend, Doris Evans. Dorrie is not a fan of Johnny’s superhero exploits and wants him to act normal around her, despite the fact that Johnny loves to grandstand as the Human Torch. We don’t witness any scenes that really explain why either Johnny or Doris want to be together.

The Doctor Strange stories:

  • In 1963, Doctor Strange Battles Baron Mordo (three times) and Nightmare.
  • It is implied that Doctor Strange and Nightmare are longtime foes, but no details are provided.
  • Doctor Strange refuses to train a protégée, Victoria Bentley.
  • All of Doctor Strange’s battles so far have taken place on the astral plane —- they have not used that term, but they’ve all occurred with his spirit and body separated, so I’m calling it the “astral plane.”
  • Doctor Strange appeared to be vaguely Asian in his first appearances. His first appearance as an obviously Caucasian guy was in #115.
  • The gist of his origin story is that Strange cared only for money and fame before he had an accident that ruined his medical career. It is implied that he has stopped seeking fame and wealth, now that he is a sorcerer. That seems like an awfully abrupt personality change, doesn’t it?

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