Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Oh Wasp, where is thy story logic?

Having read a couple of stories from July ’65 this weekend, I thought I’d do a quick add-on to Monday’s post.

Avengers #18, “When the Commissar Commands” was the first Avengers book I ever read. I guess it shows my fondness for super-teams that I became a regular Avengers reader yet picking up a Spider-Man issue didn’t convince me to buy what was clearly a better series (this was back when I only got to buy two comics a week so I had to prioritize).

That said, this is better than the usual storytelling for a Stan Lee/Don Heck Avengers story. Heck wasn’t comfortable with the Marvel method and it often showed, but the story here is straight-forward (though it does have its share of plot holes). The Red Chinese-backed Commissar is the super-strong overlord of Sin-Cong (yes, that Sin-Cong) but his subjects still remember the Americans feeding and clothing them before he rose to power (this has the same whiff of “We were the good guys in Southeast Asia” as the Sian-Cong War retcon).

To “prove the Reds are superior to freedom’s champions”, the Commissar tricks the Avengers into visiting, then engages them in a clash of titans. Cap figures out their foe is a robot controlled by his Chinese aide, which makes it simple for Wanda to short out his controls. Nothing complicated or deep, but overall, it works.

There are also some good character bits. Wanda dreams of being an actor. Pietro would like to be a circus acrobat. Hawkeye is really pissed off at communism, probably because the Reds recently put Black Widow on the critical list. Cap feels increasingly uncomfortable living in Avengers Mansion without a life of his own.Though why working in counter-intelligence under Nick Fury is a better alternative to working as leader of the Avengers is left unexplained. And Cap’s thought that liberating Sin-Cong will earn Fury’s respect is silly — as we’re repeatedly reminded, he’s a living legend with a lifetime of training. Why does he think Fury’s not going to take him seriously (perhaps it’s more of Stan’s tendency to write Cap as if he were a weary veteran Stan Lee’s own age?)

I know I’m fonder of this story than it deserves, but still, I am fond of it.

Also in July, Stan Lee, Al Hartley and Jack Kirby perform a mercy killing on Giant-Man’s series in Tales Of Suspense, to be replaced with more success by Sub-Mariner the following issue. I read “Oh Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?” as a kid and thought it intensely dramatic; not so much now. In  the previous issue (#68) Hank learned he’s lost the power to shrink (due to an encounter with the Hidden Man in #67). In addition, size-changing is wrecking his body so he needs to pick one Giant-Man size and stick to it. He opts for 35 feet as the point where he’ll be the most effective.

Unfortunately he’s better used to fighting at 12 feet tall. When the Human Top returns with a uniform that lets him fly, Hank wound up falling out his giant-sized window while the Top flew off with the Wasp (he’d become obsessed with her in a previous story).

In #69. Jan successfully contacts the trained Wasp she’s begun using for transport (flying under her own power is exhausting) and Giant-Man eventually figures it’s trying to lead him to her. Hank finally uses that new power to enlarge other creatures, making it big enough to carry him, then they’re off!

Neither of the heroes know Jan is leading Hank to his doom. The Top has brought Jan to a Potemkin village where the ground near the Top’s lair is a trap that will dump Hank into a freezing chamber, encasing him in ice until he dies (how the Top got the money for what looks like a truly massive, hyper-expensive death trap is left unexplained). The trap works as planned except Jan escapes her captor and rushes in to join the man she loves. They then survive by shrinking down and cuddling together for warmth inside the ice shell—

Hey, wait a second. Didn’t Hank specifically say his shrinking powers were gone? Why, yes. And does he have some convoluted explanation for how he recovered them? Ah, no. So the happy ending makes no sense whatsoever. Did Stan forget? Or was it Heck who forgot and Stan, given the finished pages, just rolled with it? Not that he wasn’t willing to tell his collaborators “do it over,” but as it’s Giant-Man and not the Fantastic Four, why would be bother? All the effort to establish the changes in Giant-Man’s powers seems a little odd too. Why bother with a soft reboot when they had to know the series was shutting down? But it did fill pages and maybe for Giant-Man’s last two issues, that was enough.

#SFWApro. Covers by Jack Kirby, interior art by Heck. Cover images from the awesome Mike’s Amazing World.


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