Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #116

Credits:

Cover Date: January 1964

Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, George Roussos

“In the Clutches of the Pupppet Master!”

Writer: Stan Lee

Penciller: Dick Ayers

Inker: George Roussos (credited as George Bell)

“Return to the Nightmare World!”

Plotters: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

Scripter: Stan Lee

Penciller: Steve Ditko

Inker: Steve Ditko

What’s Going On?

The first story features the return of the Puppet Master. Realizing that taking on the entire Fantastic Four at once hasn’t worked out well for him so far, he decides to take on only two team members. He uses his special radioactive clay to make a puppet of the Human Torch, and has him fight the Thing.

The second story has Doctor Strange matching wits again with Nightmare.

Details:

First up, we have a Human Torch story…

  • The Puppet Master takes control of the Human Torch, and has him visit Alicia Masters with amorous intentions.

  • The Thing enters Alicia’s apartment just in time to see Johnny’s advances, and the two begin to fight. However, the Puppet Master notes that they aren’t actually trying to kill each other. Since his master plan is for them to do just that, the Puppet Master abandons his remote viewing location; his control over his puppets decreases with distance, so he will get closer to the heroes to have more control over them.

  • Alicia realizes that the Puppet Master must be controlling Johnny. She decides to go to his last known hideout, near Idlewild Airport.

  • When Alicia arrives, the Torch (under Puppet Master’s control) is about to make a potentially deadly attack on the Thing. Alicia manages to distract the Puppet Master long enough for Johnny to come to his sense and burn the villain’s hands.

  • The Thing captures Puppet Master, but Alicia convinces Ben to set him free.

Meanwhile, in the Doctor Strange story…

  • From the dimension where he rules supreme, Nightmare plots to bring humans into his dream dimension, whether they are asleep or not. This is part one of a plan to conquer Earth’s dimension.

  • The police and some medical doctors have noticed a strange trend: people have been falling asleep with their eyes open, and are unable to be wakened. Doctor Strange recognizes that there is a magical cause to this problem.

  • Doctor Strange quickly tracks the source of the sleep magic to Nightmare’s dimension, and he sends his astral form to rescue the sleeping minds that have been captured by Nightmare.

  • Despite some trickery by Nightmare, Doctor Strange is able to rescue the dreamers and escape back to his own realm.

Is It Good?

Actually, it’s not too bad. I haven’t enjoyed this title much so far, but both stories were entertaining. Mind control is always a contrived plot point —- which makes me less than excited when the Puppet Master shows up anywhere —- but there was enough banter between the Torch and the Thing to keep things fun. It was still a dumb story, but it wasn’t boring.

The Doctor Strange story had some of Ditko’s weirdest artwork to date. I don’t particularly care for Nightmare as a villain, but with art this unique, it’s hard to nitpick these eight pages.

Continuity:

  • The title page for the Human Torch story contains an extra credit: “Based upon an idea by Tommy and Jimmy Goodkind, Hewelett Harbor, N.Y.” That’s kind of cool, even though their “payment” was definitely just that shout-out.
  • The Puppet Master explained how he survived his apparent death in Fantastic Four #14: he surfaced his submarine. You’d think he would have the bends, but I guess not.

  • Once again, asbestos is used against the Human Torch.

  • Just a reminder: the Cover Date on comics in the 60’s was more of a “keep on the newsstands until” date. Even though this has a Cover Date of January 1964, it hit newsstands in October 1963. That’s why they reference Idlewild Airport, and not JFK; the airport was renamed in December 1963.

  • After having his hands burnt by the Human Torch, the Puppet Master is not sure if he will ever be able to carve his control puppets ever again (spoiler: he will).
  • While not the first time Dormammu has been mentioned, this is the first time Doctor Strange has invoked his name.

  • Ditko is back to portraying Doctor Strange with heavily-lidded “Asian” eyes, which is an odd choice, since he was just shown with traditional Caucasian features last issue.

Comics Are Goofy:

  • The Puppet Master is using a monitor that is powered by “telepathic impulses.” It is worth noting that the Puppet Master is not a telepath.

  • It’s always a jerk move to trash someone’s house, but it’s way worse to wreck a blind person’s home. How long will it take Alicia to re-memorize her new layout after this fight?

  • If it was “probably a wrong number,” why would the phone keep ringing, Reed? The FF need a better way to identify emergencies.

  • As far as Alicia (or the Fantastic Four, for that matter) knew, the Puppet Master died when he fell out of a window in Fantastic Four #8. No one knew about his involvement in Fantastic Four #14. My point is this: Alicia should not have concluded that her step-father was responsible for the Torch’s actions, at least not so quickly.
  • The Torch can burn through a jet without harming himself or the jet? Are they implying that the Torch is made of flames here, instead of covered by them? If they are, That is contradicted by almost every single appearance of the Human Torch, ever.

  • “Sixth sense?” Stan Lee really doesn’t understand blindness, does he?

  • Alicia pleads with the Thing to not harm her step-father, the Puppet Master. He agrees. And then…everybody is okay with letting him go free? I can understand not wanting the Thing to punch someone in the face, but shouldn’t Puppet Master be in jail?
  • Doctor Strange is the master of all mystic arts, including…parlor tricks? What’s next, saving the day by finding a quarter behind a villain’s ear?

Well, That Aged Poorly:

  • The Puppet Master compelled Johnny to hit on Alicia, and when he dies, he is not worried about things like “consent.” I’m not blaming Johnny for this, since he was being controlled. How far was the Puppet Master willing to have Johnny go with his step-daughter? He never claims to have known that the Thing would show up to her apartment at that moment. How much darker could this story have gotten?

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