Tuesday, September 20, 2005

STRANGE TALES #136 Marvel Comics, 1965



My copy of Strange Tales #136 is beat to hell. If you enlarge the cover image (above) you can see all the creases and even a couple of staples holding the damn thing together. This comic has existed on Earth longer than I have, and it looks like it spent half that time on the bottom of a bird cage or as a saddle blanket for a camel or something. My point is, this comic is falling apart, and I love it all the more because of its decrepit state.

Seriously, look at that cover. How could you not love a comic with a Kirby/Severin cover like that? “Hydra’s Mission: DESTROY S.H.I.E.L.D.!” Wait, isn’t that pretty much always Hydra’s mission? Sure, but this is only the second Nick Fury story in Strange Tales, so we have to give them a break.

In true Marvel style, we get a little bit of hyperbole on the cover: “If you can find a greater mag than this, let us know – we’ll buy it ourselves!” Nowadays that kind of unabashed breaking-the-internet-in-half hype is met with shrugs by fans who have been pounded into a desensitized state by years of empty promises. I mean, there’s only so many times that you can believe that this re-launch of Alpha Flight is going to blow…you… AWAY! But in 1965 this sort of shameless yet tongue-in-cheek marketing theatrics was still fresh and sort of charming. And you know what? At least Marvel backed that shit up in the 60’s – they really DID put out the greatest “mags” and Strange Tales #136 is a good example of how they rolled back in the day.


"If comics today were this intense they would have to have seizure warnings on the covers."


Each issue of Strange Tales featured not one, but TWO pulse-pounding stories that would shatter your senses and physically blow you out of your seat! If comics today were this intense they would have to have seizure warnings on the covers. In #136 we get a classic Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. story wherein ol’ Nick turns the tables on those crummy Hydra bums PLUS a psychedelic saga of Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, wherein a lot of sinister, trippy shit happens. With this level of radness, I’m surprised child mortality rates weren’t higher during the 60’s.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. story, written by Stan Lee with breakdowns by Kirby and finished art by John Severin, goes through what must be a typical day in the life of Nick Fury. While he’s strolling along a street in New York City (natch), Nick is being stalked by a HYDRA hit squad. Spotting the creeps, Nick stops in a barber shop for a shave – a barber shop staffed by undercover S.H.IE.L.D. agents, that is! After the hit squad is disposed of, Nick and his boys set an elaborate trap for HYDRA which involves adhesive paste, electrified walls, and Marlon Brando and a stick of butter. I know, sounds gross, doesn’t it?

I may be wrong, but I think this comic is one of the first HYDRA appearances, firmly establishing HYDRA as a more garish version of SPECTRE from the Bond movies. Failure is punishable by death in this serpent-motif underworld organization, and absolute fanatical loyalty is demanded. Remind you of anybody?

Oh, and HYDRA members must work the phrase “Hail Hydra” into a conversation whenever possible. I mean, if somebody sneezes, it’s “Hail Hydra!”

The comic switches gears and heads off into Timothy Leary-land with a Dr. Strange adventure written by Stan Lee with art by the rightfully revered Steve Ditko. In this tale, Baron Mordo’s agents hunt Dr. Strange as he travels the globe, secretly visiting mystics and sorcerers for the key to Eternity – the only thing that can save his comatose master, The Ancient One.

Ditko’s art really makes the story, striking a tone between noir intrigue and cosmic surrelia. The scenes of Dr. Strange dodging Mordo’s minions and skulking about are exotic and shadowy, striking just the right tone. Then, when Dr. Strange travels to a demonic otherworld, shit gets weird in a way that can only be described by uttering one word: “Ditko.”



Stan Lee’s florid dialogue and operatic storyline compliments Ditko’s artwork perfectly in this comic. Kirby is King, but Ditko is also largely responsible for writing the grammar that composes the visual language of the Marvel Universe. Ditko fucking rules.


Dr. Strange is sucked into a bizarre world where a nameless demon hypnotizes his prey with googly eyes, then transforms them into soul masks and grafts them to these giant totem pole things. He almost catches Dr. Strange – almost. In the end, Dr. Strange schools the demon and Goes Nuclear, destroying the entire dimension. That’s what happens when you screw with Dr. Strange.

Who else was drawing stuff like this in the 60’s? No, I’ll answer for you: nobody.

23 comments:

Shane Bailey said...

Everyday life must be a lot different as a hydra agent.

Excuse me m'am you seem to toilet paper stuck to your shoe. Hail hydra.

Hi! Welcome to Best Buy. Hail Hydra!

Welcome to McDonalds. May I take your order please? Hail Hydra.

Make Mine Marvel! Hail Hydra!

Hi, My name is Bob and I'm an alchoholic. Hail Hydra!

Honey I'm home! Hail Hydra!

Boy, these wheatcakes sure are good Aunt May! Hail Hydra!

Oh yeah baby! Right there! Hail Hydra! Hail HYYYYYYDRRRRRAAAA!!!

Angry Android said...

Ditko is the man. Only he could have come up with a wacky superhero costume that is Spider-Man's.

Tycho B. said...

Spider-Man wacky? What about The Creeper? There's an outfit that shows just how batshit-crazy Ditko could be.

Edward Liu said...

Wong's next line after that closing panel: "What are you talking about master? In your quest, you just totally PWN3D that otherdimensional demon and flipped out and killed his entire known universe! I think your quest so far has been a raging success.

Your quest to prove that you have the REAL ULTIMATE SORCERER SUPREME POWER, that is!"

David Campbell said...

Godd point. Dude took out an entire frickin' dimension. That's powah, baby. POWAH

Greg said...

In answer to your final question, Neal Adams was doing some pretty cool stuff in the '60s. Steranko, too. Bruno Premiani on Doom Patrol. That's all I know. My 1960s knowledge is weak.

Winterteeth said...

I wonder if those agents in the fake barber shop had to really cut people's hair while waiting for some spy shit to go down? I picture Dum Dum Dugan teasing some blonde's hair and saying, "Oh no he DIDN'T! Girlfriend, kick him to the curb!"

And Gabe would just shake his head and sigh.

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Matthew said...

"Hail Hydra" is for the pussy members. The weekend Hydra warriors. The weak-kneed goons that Captain America goes through like shovelfuls of coal into the steam-powered locomotive of patriotic fervor.

"HAIL HYDRA! CUT OFF ONE HEAD AND NINE MORE SHALL TAKE ITS PLACE!"

That's HARDCORE Hydra. That's REAL Hydra. These "Hail Hydra." folks, they -- that's like the Green Lantern who says "In darkest day, in mumble mumble hmmph." Good luck defeating Sinestro with THAT lackluster ring, lame-ass.

Candy Kane said...

I bet Marvel were so pissed when Pokemon managed to cause seizures in kids. Hey, that's OUR gig! We've been trying to do that for YEARS! Bastards!

kelvingreen said...

See, and there was me thinking that Srange was only goof for explaining the plot in New Avengers. Stupid Bendis.


Now Strange is cool and all, but I reckon there's a lot of unmined potential in a series from the perspective of Wong. He's like a more sarcastic Alfred, but with kung fu!

Andy said...

Take a look at the current Defenders for a typically Giffen-esque glimpse into The Life Of Wong.

kelvingreen said...

I tried, but it was awful, so no.

Brad Curran said...

"I tried, but it was awful, so no."

I don't know why, but this cracked me up.

As far as Marvel hype then and now, the reason why I enjoy the hype jobs Stan did in the 60s to no end is that they're tongue in cheek. They have a sense of humor about them that, like the best of Stan's narration, made you feel like you were in on the joke. It has this warm, personable vibe that Lee evoked so well that very few of the people who have emulated him ever managed to replicate. My problem with the current Marvel hype is that it's just empty hyperbole. I can't imagine whoever's writing it has a big grin on their face. I can with even the most hucksterish of Stan's editorials.

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