Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Cover date: July, 1964

Now that Alien Visitors is in the tank, I can resume my Silver Age rereading. This week I picked up where I left off, with comics cover-dated July 1964.

This was, it turns out, when Lucky Charms became a thing. I don’t recall seeing any ads for the cereal before but they’re all over my DCs from that month (probably Marvel too but I only have reprints). Unusually there are three or four different ads, rather than running identical ones everywhere.

This month’s Green Lantern has a weird opening story. “Tunnel Through Time” takes four pages before Hal even appears; he’s been off in space while a squadron of pterodactyls has attacked Coast City with superhuman — er, supersaurian — abilities to smash concrete buildings and take down planes. After Tom fills him in, we get a couple of pages explaining why this is happening. Only then does GL swing into action.

And what is going on, you ask? A distant pterosaur civilization wants to make its primitive brethren on Earth masters of the planet. To do that they first lure them across time, then zap them with a mentality-enhancing M-beam. Once Green Lantern lures them back to the past they’re out of range and things revert to normal.

It’s a very odd structure for a Green Lantern tale. Usually he’s present from the start, even if he’s not directly involved in the action. When I first read it, it struck me as a reworked Strange Adventures yarn — and the Kane/Anderson cover definitely resembles Murphy Anderson’s cover for Strange Adventures #121 from four years earlier (which also involved unstoppable pterosaurs).Reading in sequence, I’m even more convinced. “Tunnel Through Time” came out just a couple of months after Strange Adventures became a Jack Schiff-edited book, with Julius Schwartz and his crew relocating to Batman and Detective Comics. So perhaps this John Broome/Gil Kane yarn was one they’d worked on for Strange Adventures, then reworked into a Green Lantern tale so as not to waste it.

Comics writer Charlie Boatner, who’s in a Silver Age Google Group with me, says a later letters page about the issue rained scorn on the alien pterodactyls and their plan. However the writers had nothing but praise for the backup story, which introduced the first female Green Lantern, Katma Tui.

Marvel, meanwhile, was having a pretty amazing year. For me, the first couple of years of the Marvel Universe had Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man doing fantastic, amazing stories while the rest of the line plodded along and coasted on their success. In 1964, though, everything seems to start clicking as Lee begins writing more stuff (setting aside for the moment how much he contributed, or didn’t, to the plotting). Even Giant-Man is somewhat more readable than before. And the covers begin to show that flamboyant sense of bombast that Lee enjoyed in his marketing.

That said, while I see people online talk about how fresh Marvel was compared to DC’s formulaic stories, Marvel just has a different formula. The Fantastic Four’s excellent character conflicts rippled through the line so that by 1963, Lee and his collaborators would generate drama by having heroes fight when they met. In July, 1964, we have Egghead trick Spider-Man and Giant-Man into a Clash of Titans; the Mad Thinker and Puppet Master arrange an X-Men/Fantastic Four clash; and Namor battles the X-Men.

Admittedly Namor was then an anti-hero at best but X-Men #6 still verges on self-parody. We have Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants fighting each other, then Namor fighting the X-Men. Namor sort-of joins the Brotherhood — this is the story that established he’s a mutant — but neither he nor Magneto can go two panels without snarling or scheming at each other. That said, it does show the strength of Marvel’s continuity in this period, with Namor angsting over Sue rejecting him in the previous month’s Fantastic Four.

But the Marvel I really want to talk about is Tales of Suspense #55 by Lee and Don Heck.

In the previous issue the military demands Tony Stark explain why the Stark Industries spy missiles they’re using in Vietnam are all crashing mysteriously. Iron Man discovers it’s a ray taking them down and behind the ray, the Mandarin. Figuring if Iron Man approaches the Mandarin’s fortress he’ll be blasted out of the sky, Tony goes in as Just An American, then escapes the guards long enough to change. However he’s unprepared for the power of the Mandarin’s rings. Iron Man ends up trapped, his armor’s charge exhausted, wishing he’d been nicer to Pepper and Happy the last time he saw them — as it will almost certainly prove the last time he ever saw them. It’s the kind of melodrama that Lee did magnificently.

Then comes #55. Quick thinking Iron Man reminds Mandy that Tony Stark is still loose in the castle, sabotaging things (which would be news to the villain, as he didn’t identify Tony the previous issue). Mandarin runs off to put a stop to that, giving Iron Man’s internal generator enough time to recharge —


This makes absolutely no sense: Tony’s armor doesn’t have an internal generator. When he runs out of power he has to hook up to an external source; he can’t simply recharge his armor by resting. After all that build-up, it’s a blatant cheat.

Possibly Stan couldn’t think of a better solution. My guess, though, is that it’s the Marvel method at work. Don Heck has spoke about how hard he found plotting stories instead of just illustrating a detailed script. So perhaps when Stan got the finished pages he found the Mandarin walking away, then Iron Man busting loose for no obvious reason. He did the best he could to make sense of it.

Possibly this also explains why, having seen Iron Man destroy his anti-missile ray early in the story, the Mandarin is somehow surprised when he finds it still wrecked at the climax. Just a disconnect between artist and writer.

#SFWApro. Bottom two covers by Kirby.


  1. conrad1970

    I gave up long ago trying to make sense of Silver Age comics and the plot holes in particular, You just gotta go with the flow.
    I can only read a couple in one sitting though as I find them hard going.

  2. conrad1970

    Really? I’d have to disagree about the plotting not improving.
    Claremont’s X-men, Simonson’s Thor or Priest’s Black Panther run are just a few examples.
    Not to mention Hickman’s runs in general.

    On a side note I’ve heard the bad news about George Perez’s cancer diagnosis, hopefully he will get to say a proper goodbye to fans before he leaves us.

  3. Yes, the Perez news is saddening.
    But I can find plenty of well-plotted stories from the Silver Age, just as I can find sloppy ones later. There’s a Claremont story where the X-Men win by Storm blasting Cyclops with lightning because naturally someone who absorbs UV light to build up his power can absorb lightning. That annoyed me at the time; it annoyed me when I reread it earlier this year (I’ve been going through X-Men up to the point I stopped buying them).

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