Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #123

Credits:

Cover Date: August 1964

Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, Sol Brodsky

“The Birth of the Beetle!”

Writer: Stan Lee

Penciller: Carl Burgos

Inker: Dick Ayers

“The Challenge of Loki!”

Plotters: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko

Scripter: Stan Lee

Penciller: Steve Ditko

Inker: George Roussos (credited as George Bell)

What’s Going On?

The Human Torch and Thing take on a new threat, the Beetle, who seems content to humiliate them.

Elsewhere, Doctor Strange battles Loki, for the date of Thor!

Details:

In “The Birth of the Beetle”:

  • Local nobody, Abner Jenkins, has created a helmet that will give him great power as…the Beetle!

  • On a double date, the Human Torch and Thing are off-duty at a restaurant; this is coincidentally where the Beetle has chosen to make his debut. Naturally, the heroes step in to stop the thief. It doesn’t go as easily as you might think…

  • After distracting the Human Torch with an errant cash register, the Thing is waylaid by a pot of soup.

  • The Beetle got away, and Ben and Johnny looked like chumps.

  • They tracked the Beetle down again, but he escaped once more.

  • The Beetle keeps pressing his luck, though. Eventually, the heroes catch him because…well, they’re members of the Fantastic Four, and he’s an idiot that has skated thus far because the heroes didn’t want to risk the lives or income of innocent bystanders.

 

In “The Challenge of Loki”:

  • In Asgard, Loki has decided that Doctor Strange is the perfect pawn to help him defeat Thor.

  • Loki’s first step is to convince Strange that Thor is evil.

  • Doctor Strange casts a spell to create a magical disembodied hand that successfully grabs Thor’s hammer away from him.

  • Before the hammer is brought to Doctor Strange, he figures out that the evil he sensed earlier came from Loki, and not Thor. Doctor Strange and Loki then begin a mystical battle.

  • Strange is resourceful, but even in an ethereal form, Loki is more powerful.

  • Doctor Strange resorts to trickery in the face of Loki’s power, and returns Thor’s hammer to its rightful owner.

  • Loki, even as an astral projection, is far too powerful for Doctor Strange. However, Loki has no desire to battle Thor in this weakened state, so he quits and lives to fight another day.

Is It Good?

The Human Torch story was decent, if only because the Torch and Thing looked pretty stupid throughout. I don’t like that the Beetle is such a crappy criminal, but that only amplified how ineffectual the heroes were, so at least it played into the (perhaps inadvertent) humor of the issue.

It was cool, in a historical way, that Carl Burgos (co-creator of the Golden Age Human Torch) drew this story. His art didn’t “wow” me, but I like the change of pace that non-“house” artists bring when they drop in for an issue or two.

As for the Doctor Strange story, it was good! I didn’t really enjoy Dick Ayers’ inks over Ditko’s pencils —- they were okay, but I prefer Ditko inking Ditko —- but I really liked seeing Doctor Strange outmatched.  One of the little moments I appreciated was when Doctor Strange tried to send Loki to the Purple Dimension (from Strange Tales #119), and how easily Loki avoided that trap; in other words, somethign that presented a challenge to Doctor Strange (the Purple Dimension) did not to Loki.  That’s a legit way to build up Loki as a villain.

Continuity:

  • This is the first appearance of Abner Jenkins, the Beetle! His Beetle suit gives him super-strength, suction grippers, and the power of flight. He can also use his wings to burrow underground.

  • Alicia Masters last appeared in Fantastic Four #29.
  • Doris Evans last appeared in Strange Tales #121.
  • Asbestos again!

  • Stan Lee last appeared as a character in Fantastic Four #10. Carl Burgos last appeared in 1942’s Marvel Mystery Comics #34.  Notice that Stan is shown absolutely bald.  It is my understanding that he didn’t start his comb-over until 1966 or so, but WOW, other people knew he was bald before then.

  • This is the first time Steve Ditko didn’t ink his own Doctor Strange pencils.
  • This is the first time Doctor Strange has had a character from another title make a guest-appearance.
  • Loki’s last substantial appearance was in Journey Into Mystery #104. Sure, he made a brief cameo in Avengers #7, and he appeared in a “Tales of Asgard” flashback in Journey Into Mystery #107, but if we’re talking about Loki doing evil stuff in the present time, JIM #104 was his most recent effort.
  • This is the first time Doctor Strange met Loki. He still hasn’t met Thor.
  • Apparently, mystical spells and sorcery can control Thor’s hammer.  Does that mean Doctor Strange could lift the hammer (with the help of some spells)?
  • Loki’s mystical powers are far greater than Doctor Strange’s, and Strange acknowledges this. Note: Loki’s not even at full-strength in these scenes.

Comics Are Goofy:

  • The Thing has rocklike skin. Is he really at risk of being scalded? By soup?

  • The first part of his plan worked perfectly! He got into a fight with superheroes, and escaped with none of the money he tried to steal!

  • Sure, sure…Ben’s certainly not riding a motorcycle because Burgos forgot to put him in the Fantasticar.

  • Remember: all super-humans have all the abilities of their namesakes. This is why Spider-Man feasts on the juices of those he captures in his webbing.

  • When asked to sign an autograph for the civilians that were heckling them earlier, Johnny burns the autograph book and Ben breaks the guy’s pen. Superheroes are jerks, sometimes.

Well, That Aged Poorly:

  • Editorial pop culture references are always the most awkward.

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