Thursday, October 6, 2011

December 1939: Marvel Mystery Comics #4

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Torch goes up against a mad scientist named Manyac, and his Green Flames, men wearing suits covered in a freezing fire. Manyac is terrorising New York, holding it to ransom for vast sums of money, and the city is under martial law. The Torch puts a stop to his plans in a fairly middling story.

The most important thing that happens in this story is that the Torch adopts the name of Jim Hammond, something he does on the spur of the moment when questioned by the police. I hadn't even noticed before that he had yet to get a name.

The Torch's powers are also pretty inconsistent. There's a bit where he makes bullets veer away from him with a wave of his hand, which doesn't seem like something he should be able to do. And I've always wondered why, if his body burns hot enough to melt bullets, can he be put out with water? Surely the water would evaporate.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The mob goes on a crime spree, using a bullet-proof giant called Butch to wreak havoc. The Angel shows up and beats him, and there's not much more to it than that. This is a strange story, in that the Angel is a complete cipher in it. He only has one line of dialogue. The focus is on the crooks, and Butch. Butch is also unexplained; he's just a big, bulletproof giant and nobody ever bothers to ask where he came from. He could be a mutant, he could be from Asgard, who knows.  I quite liked this, but I'm a sucker for super-hero fight stories.

'Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Having been swayed by Betty Dean in the last issue, Namor leads an army of Sub-Mariners to intervene in the war. His plan is simply to make sure that food and medical supplies get where they're supposed to go, regardless of whose side they're meant for. This is a massive turnaround for a guy who was prepared to destroy the human race not so long ago. The story ends with Namor having liberated an American freighter, and leading it towards Scotland. I'm not really feeling this one. Namor's heroic turn has made him much less interesting, and the action mostly consists of an uninspired aerial dogfight.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): The Masked Raider protects two prospectors from thugs trying to kill them over a rich gold deposit. It's another story in which the title character barely appears. It falls flat at the end; there's a panel of the Masked Raider punching one of the crooks, and suddenly all four of them are beaten. It's pretty weak stuff.

'Warning Enough' (by David G. Cooke): A driver named Steve Naylor picks up a hitch-hiker who ends up being a crook on the run from the law. The crook provides his own undoing by making Steve drive extra-carefully, as the uncharacteristic caution alerts the police that something isn't right. I thought the ending to this was relatively clever.

'Electro, the Marvel of the Age' (by Steve Dahlman): Professor Philo Zog invents a robot called Electro, with which he wants to help the human race. He also hires twelve operatives to aid him, which he hilariously does by calling an unemployment agency and asking them to send only those of "courage and good character". It's not the most foolproof way to set up a spy network, but in at least one case it works, as agent Dick Gardner stops a kidnapping ring with Electro's help. Unfortunately, too much of this story is taken up by the human characters, and when Electro goes into action he's not all that impressive.

'Ferret, Mystery Detective' (by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen): Ferret is a writer and a detective. In this story he investigates a wave of jewel robberies. This story is really choppy and difficult to follow. It also has one of the worst montage sequences I've ever seen. It's not good.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great' (by Ben Thompson): DeKraft, the killer of Ka-Zar's father, returns to the Congo to hunt for emeralds. Ka-Zar begins planning his revenge, and the story continues into the next issue. The use of DeKraft in this story gives it a bit of extra weight, and this is all perfectly good set-up. There are all sorts of possibilities for shenanigans and double-crossing, with a rift in DeKraft's camp, as well as Ka-Zar's.  DeKraft's partner wants to kill him, and vice versa.  DeKraft's native guides want to get the hell out of the jungle.  Ka-Zar wants to kill DeKraft.  Various animals think that Ka-Zar is in league with DeKraft.  There's a lot going on.


  1. >And I've always wondered why, if his body burns hot enough to melt bullets, can he be put out with water?<

    It's just a convention of the genre that bullets are ridiculously easy to deal with. Have you read a Batman story yet where he's saved by a bulletproof vest and doesn't feel a thing when he's shot because of it?

  2. Yeah, I know, and I'm usually very willing to accept the sort of nonsense that passes for science in super-hero stories. I love it, actually. I've just always been a bit bemused by the Human Torch thing.

    (Plus, he's Batman. Of course he doesn't feel it.)