Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

In hindsight, Tales to Astonish #81 becomes more interesting

For years my main interest in Tales to Astonish #81 was wondering why a villain called Boomerang doesn’t use more boomerangs.As you can see on the Jack Kirby cover (with Bill Everett inking), Hulk’s foe for this and next issue does wield a boomerang. However it’s nowhere near as often as he uses his deadly metal discs. Indeed, he uses exactly one boomerang in the story, making me wonder if someone at some point said “Wait, every kid in America knows what a boomerang is! Redo the art so he uses one at least once!” And once is it. The rest of the time, it’s disc city.

Returning to the issue as part of rereading the Silver Age, a couple more things struck me. First there’s this bit of backstory.A baseball pitcher who uses his throwing skills for evil? It’s hard for me not to see him as a dry run for Bullseye, though I doubt he was an inspiration. It’s also interesting that he’s playing with a CB radio; those became huge in pop culture in the early 1970s but I didn’t realize they were a thing this much earlier.

Then we have Boomerang’s employers, the Secret Empire.Part of the fun of rereading the old comics systematically is that I can see connections or patterns I might otherwise miss. I didn’t realize before that the Secret Empire turns up right as Lee is using the sinister crime cartel Them (later revealed to be A.I.M.) as Hydra Mark II. Their agents — Batroc, Super-Adaptoid — battle Captain America; they resurrect the Red Skull and create the Cosmic Cube; and at the time of this Tales to Astonish, had been bedeviling Shield for several issues of Strange Tales.So why create another sinister secret organization? The Secret Empire are just a duller version of AIM or Hydra, with nothing special about them; they’d have been more interesting if they’d been Them. The connection with other books would have enhanced the sense of a shared universe, which Lee clearly valued.

Instead we had to wait for the 1970s to make them memorable.It’s fun to have puzzles like that to think about, even if I’ll probably never know the answers.

#SFWApro. All art by Kirby except bottom cover (Sal Buscema)


  1. tomfitz1

    frashersherman: If you don’t know the answers, you could always as Brian Cronin over at CBR. He probably would know, and if he doesn’t – he’ll research for the fun of it. 🙂

      1. Yep. I asked whether a profanity-laced letter Irene Vartanoff (a well known letter hack in the Silver Age) had been the real deal. And yes, it was, though the implication it had cussing in it (the quotes include “censored” every couple of lines) were Kanigher’s joke.

  2. Le Messor

    We were talking about redundant characters / concepts, and you mentioned Secret Empire. I was also thinking about all the throwers – Boomerang, Discus, Oddball; so you’ve got at least two examples in this article!

    1. I hadn’t thought about all the throwers, but you have a point. Though I think of “juggler who throws deadly things” and “dude who throws boomerangs or says he does” as separate skill sets.
      I agree Discus, though, was a waste of space.

      1. Le Messor

        NGL, the juggling thing got to me while I was writing my comment; but there were others I couldn’t think of at the time, so I went with the ones I could.

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    Citizen Band Radio was first regulated in 1948 and lower end frequencies were reserved for communication. However, the radios were bulky and expensive and were more often used for commercial activity. Advances in solid state electronics, in the late 60s, led to smaller and cheaper CB radios. The Oil Crisis really helped spur their sales, as a way to locate cheaper gas and also enforcement of the 55 mph speed limit. The cost of a license was about $4 then, but enforcement of the license requirement was pretty lax.

    1. Background I didn’t know, thanks.
      I do remember CB radio being a staple in stories of evading speed traps back when I was a teen. And like ham radios before them and the Internet after, developing a community among users.

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