Strange Tales (Vol. 1) 1964 Year In Review

Splash page from Strange Tales #127

How Many Issues?

Twelve: Strange Tales #116-127

The main feature is still the Human Torch solo stories, but this becomes a Human Torch/Thing team-up feature, beginning with Strange Tales #124. The back-up feature is still Doctor Strange.

Creative Team:

Human Torch/Thing stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#116-127), Dick Ayers (#116-119, 121-122, 124-127), Jack Kirby (#120), Carl Burgos (#123)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#116-127)

Pencillers: Dick Ayers (#116-119, 121-122, 124-127), Jack Kirby (#120), Carl Burgos (#123)

Inkers: George Roussos (#116, 120, 122), Dick Ayers (#117-119, 121, 123), Paul Reinman (#124-127)

Doctor Strange stories:

Plotters: Stan Lee (#116-127), Steve Ditko (#116-127)

Scripter: Stan Lee (#116-127)

Penciller: Steve Ditko (#116-127)

Inkers: Steve Ditko (#116-122, 126-127), George Roussos (#123-125)

Was It Good?

On the bright side, this title is definitely on the upswing. On the other hand, Strange Tales was arguably Marvel’s worst title in 1963, so that’s not saying a lot. The Human Torch is still insufferable and obnoxious as a solo hero, and the Doctor Strange stories are still not given enough pages to fully develop. So, no, this title still isn’t very good.

However, the inclusion of the Fantastic Four as a regular supporting cast helps temper Johnny’s adventures a bit, and the addition of the Thing as a co-leading character helps even more. Doctor Strange’s stories improve throughout the year —- and when they’re not good, at least the artwork is striking. At the very least, the average issue of Strange Tales was better in 1964 than it was in 1963.

Artistically, Dick Ayers was the main penciller for the Human Torch stories; the art is mostly fine, but it’s not exciting. Steve Ditko’s work looked less polished as the year progressed, and he even stopped inking his work for a few issues; still, his Doctor Strange stories had consistently weird and cool art, and that is always worthwhile.

Story-wise, most of the plots are pretty dumb. The Human Torch gets himself in trouble because he’s a self-centered jerk, more often than not. He faces threats from the Puppet Master (twice! Ugh!), the Eel, the Wizard, Plantman, the Terrible Trio, the Mad Thinker, and Paste-Pot-Pete. Most of these are awful villains. The best villain the Torch fought in 1964 was Namor —- and Namor was minding his own business, not looking for a fight at the time, so Johnny and Ben just looked like jerks.

Doctor Strange’s stories were better, but there were a lot of one-off villains this year; he battled Loki, Nightmare (twice), Dormammu (twice), and Baron Mordo (three times) —- the remaining stories were inconsequential monster-of-the-week threats. Mordo still isn’t doing much to justify his frequent appearances; each battle is just Strange tricking him and them doing stuff with their astral projections. I liked the other matchups, though, particularly Loki and Dormammu. Hopefully, Doctor Strange starts to get more multi-part stories in ‘65, and we get more weird and powerful characters like Dormammu to challenge him.

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.

Human Torch/Thing stories:

  • The Fantastic Four is much more involved in Johnny and Ben’s solo adventures than they were in 1963. The reasons why they don’t actively help are sometimes dumb, but Stan and Dick are at least trying to account for them, and that helps make the plots less ridiculous.
  • We see less of Johnny’s absolutely random fire abilities this year. He still does some weird stuff —- I guess he can send heat images without being hot enough to flame on? —- but it’s not as silly as it was in ‘63.
  • Johnny and Doris Evans are still a couple. She still isn’t a huge fan of his superhero-ing, but she is making less of a fuss about it. They still don’t make much sense as a couple.
  • Asbestos is used against the Human Torch in six issues (!). That’s a slight decrease, year-over-year, but it’s still obviously a plot crutch. That brings his grand total of asbestos encounters —- so, his appearances in Fantastic Four, Strange Tales, and any other appearances —- in the Silver Age to nineteen (!!!).
  • The Thing loses his powers only once in these issues (probably because he didn’t join the title until Strange Tales #124). That makes eleven total times that he has turned back into a human in the Silver Age.
  • Invisible Girl gets captured once in this title, bringing her grand total up to eight kidnappings.
  • The Puppet Master controlled Johnny and made his make a romantic pass at Alicia Masters. This is the first time that there has been any hint of romance between the two. No one mentions that Alicia allegedly looks an awful lot like Johnny’s sister and how weird that would be for him.

The Doctor Strange stories:

  • Doctor Strange battles Nightmare twice, but they don’t make reference to their first encounter, which was alluded to last year. I’m going to go ahead and guess that this subplot is officially forgotten/abandoned.
  • Doctor Strange continues to conduct his battles primarily on the astral plane. That’s fine, but Ditko’s choice of portraying astral projections as pale and ghostlike isn’t very visually interesting. Give me the bizarre worlds of Dormammu or Nightmare any day!
  • Doctor Strange’s appearance has settled into his “classic” appearance. When he debuted, he appeared to be vaguely Asian, but the stereotypical/racist visuals used to indicate that are gone by the end of 1964.

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