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Marvel Mayhem: Return To The Reading Order!

If you've been reading the prior installments of Marvel Mayhem, you know the drill by now.

There's me.

There's the Marvel Universe.

There's a reading order that takes one through the entire Marvel Universe in an attempt to establish consistent story continuity.

It's been a long time since I checked in with my progress but I've still been perusing the occasional issue when I have a few minutes, and rating each on a five-tier scale.

5: Excelsior! (the best of the best, worth owning and treasuring)


4: 
Highly recommended, and definitely worth reading


3: 
Either it's entertaining but uneven, or it's got historical significance. Or, both.


2: 
Far from great. Poor art or poor story or both. But still readable


1: Paste Pot Pete
 (A chore to get through, either because it's dull or poorly drawn or the premise is ridiculous. The bottom of the barrel, named in honor of the most ridiculous Marvel villain I have yet encountered)

Let's continue then, shall we?

Supplemental Order #14. Astonishing Issue #5

Publication Date: August 1951

Writer: Hank Chapman

Artist: Cal Massey

We resume our traipse through the supplemental part of the order (as explained last time) with more of the shenanigans of Marvel Boy.

As usual, the centerpiece of the issue is the first story. It's a disjointed piece centering around cave-ins and landslides at the Grand Canyon, and an apparent recurring villain who Marvel Boy knows well but we're seeing for the first time. Meh...

The most striking thing about these supplemental titles is the willingness of the heroes to kill. Marvel Boy wipes out a slew of henchmen and aliens in the first of the tales told.

Lots of uneven stuff in this one, which comes off more like a bad episode of Tales From The Crypt. Definitely skippable...
Rating: 2 out of 5


Supplemental Order #15. Astonishing Issue #6

Publication Date: October 1951

The last of this limited run of Marvel Boy tales, and I'm rather pleased they're through, to be honest. The colorful art just seems at odds with a lot of what's going on, particularly the level of carnage dealt out and taking place. The centerpiece story is on a magician who gets shanghaied by a gang to help them on their heists, and ends in a bloodless bloodbath (you'll see...)

There are four other stories (one prose, three comics) in the issue. Of the three, the only one that's even remotely memorable is the non-Marvel Boy piece, “The Coffin.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

48. Amazing Spider-Man #2

Publication Date: May 1963

Writers: Stan Lee

Artist: Steve Ditko

Back into the regular rotation, and we're starting with a big one! Spidey's flagship series (you know, the one that lasted a measly 700 issues) puts out its second installment AND debuts yet another iconic member of the Marvel rogues gallery. As is the case in the first issue this one is split between two stories.

As much as Jack Kirby deserves his legendary status, to date, I've enjoyed the issues penned by Steve Ditko more as a whole than the work of Kirby. Ditko really shines in the Vulture story. Seeing the Vulture and Spider-Man doing battle with the skyline of New York City as the backdrop makes for some really engaging and impressive panels.

The Tinkerer also makes a decent foil, as Spidey repels an alien menace. The Marvel Universe must truly be vast for a different alien race to try and invade every few weeks. Once Peter Parker beats some Commies, then he's officially going to be part of the Silver Age team...

Rating: 3 out of 5 (I'd give the Vulture half a 4, though)

49. Fantastic Four #13

Publication Date: April 1963

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Let me see if I can explain the premise of this one without any major spoilers. Reed Richards harnesses the energy in meteorite fragments as a propulsion means to get spaceships to the moon. Meanwhile, Communist scientist Ivan Kragoff is using similar screwball science to get his own voyage ready... with a crew of specially trained apes, a gorilla pilot, a baboon weapons man and an orangutan mechanic.

It's not uncommon for a Silver Age issue to be jam-packed with story and plot twists, but they cram a lot into this one. All the events that transpire probably would fill at least one trade paperback—or five monthly issues—nowadays. Because there's so much going on, none of it really means much. Although, one important and recurring character does make their Marvel Universe debut.

Hearing The Thing say “Wheeeeee!” while the other members of the group survey Kragoff's ship is almost worth the price of admission itself.

Rating: 2 out of 5

50. Tales To Astonish #42

Publication Date: April 1963

Writers: Stan Lee & Larry Lieber

Artist: Don Heck

Another award-worthy candidate for the Silver Age villain scrapheap. This month's antagonist is James Cragg, who has an extreme power of persuasion in his voice thanks to radioactive microbes on his microphone. That's just more screwball science in a series full of it, what with Henry Pym wearing clothes of stretchable fabrics that expand and contract as he grows and shrinks. There's one legitimately funny line, where Cragg's radio ad is so persuasive that people without dogs buy dog food so they can eat it themselves. One witticism doth not save an issue from scorn, however.

Rating: 1 out of 5 – Paste Pot Pete strikes again!

51. Tales Of Suspense #40

Publication Date: April 1963

Writers: Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein

Artist: Jack Kirby

Iron Man is back! He's already undergoing a makeover! And he's not able to go shirtless. Whaaaaa? Turns out the suit he was imprisoned in before has been reduced down to a handy-dandy chest plate... which he has to wear at all times or else his heart will fail. That makes swimming, and, potentially, other “playboy activities” a little tricky, to say the least. The stage appeared to be set for a rather impressive confrontation between Iron Man and Gargantua, a giant Neanderthal with the ability to hypnotize people en masse... until there's a plot twist that brings us back down the same well-trodden path so many times to date (I'll give you a hint, it involves either Communists or aliens.)

More Screwball Science. Instead of radiation or magnets being the magical devices, with Stark, it's transistors! Did actual scientists in the 1960s read these and have smoke coming out their ears at all the creative license on how these things actually worked? I wonder...

Rating: 2 out of 5

52. Journey Into Mystery #92

Publication Date: May 1963

Writers: Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein

Artist: Joe Sinnott

Three issues removed from a figure from organized crime seeking out Dr. Blake for some forced medical work, we see the exact same scenario play out. You'd think the good doctor would invest in a security guard or something, if only to keep his secret identity intact. This played out more like the prologue to a split issue, which would make more sense if it was the usual 20-some pages as opposed to the abbreviated 14-page allotments for Thor in these early JIM issues.

More wacky science at work (magnetism!!!), but at least the properties of it are somewhat accurate for once. Loki returns, and continues to establish himself as the best villain to date in the Marvel Universe. Yeah, his antics are a little repetitive—with him constantly trying to separate Thor from his hammer—but that's forgivable when an issue is as well-drawn and well-paced as this one.

Rating: 4 out of 5 – Very Good

Supplemental 16. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandoes #1

Publication Date: May 1963

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Reading this issue made me glad I decided to include the supplemental stuff in this reading order. This issue wasn't just the highlight of the supplemental, it's one of the most entertaining I've read overall in almost 60 total comics to date in this project. A young Nick Fury (he's got both eyes and everything!) leads a Dirty Dozen-esque crew into the heart of Nazi territory to rescue a leader of the French Resistance. Current Marvel fans also will recognize Dum Dum Dugan as part of the team—and there's a great visual in one panel after he neutralizes a Nazi plane while parachuting with a grenade. The pacing is fast, and there's a ton of action. Just an entertaining read from cover to cover, or, start to finish by digital terms. The only knock? The art seemed a bit inconsistent from page to page and panel to panel.

Rating: 4 out of 5

53. Fantastic Four #14

Publication Date: May 1963

Writers: Stan Lee

Artist: Jack Kirby

Love the cover to this issue. Well drawn and a unique perspective. Also a good bit of continuity and back story at work here, as Sub-Mariner makes his return and the Puppet Master proves that reports of his demise were somewhat exaggerated. We also see continued development of the relationship between The Thing and his blind girlfriend Alicia, as well as the Namor-Sue-Reed Richards love triangle and the ongoing issue of the members of the group dealing with their fame. The art is decent, and there's a lot going on. There's also a sizable dose of schlock. The Torch is up to his usual Calvinball type antics, and Sub-Mariner and Reed Richards have some of that as well. A sea creature that absorbs heat? Gee, might've come in handy when he and Torch battled head to head. (Mento-fish! Hypno-fish! Flex-O-Gen breathing packets! Giant clams that exhale choloroform!)

One thing that's absent from this issue? Gender equity. Sue Storm spends her time house cleaning and typing up Reed's scientific reports before the story gets moving. (No, really, that's what she does.)

All that being said, it's at least entertaining schlock. And the entire read was more satisfying given all the background and back story.

Rating: 4 out of 5

54. Tales To Astonish #43

Publication Date: May 1963

Writers: Stan Lee & Larry Lieber

Artist: Don Heck

The last solo Ant-Man issue of TTA, and arguably the most readable one yet. The villain's descent into evildoing happened pretty fast, as did his assembly of the aging ray he builds that becomes the central plot point. There's nothing egregiously awful or mind-numbingly dumb, and there's a nice plot twist to set up the climax. Also, at least the mad scientist was thoughtful enough to put a reverse button on his aging ray.

Rating: 3 out of 5

55. Tales Of Suspense #41

Publication Date: May 1963

Writers: Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein

Artist: Jack Kirby

Iron Man goes against Doctor Strange (no, not that one), who electronically hypnotizes Iron Man to break him out of jail. There's some solid character development at work in the first half, but everything involving Strange is pretty bad. His dialogue is a mishmash of a bad Shakespearean knock-off and every lame cliché you've ever heard about supervillains. The art's pretty inconsistent as well.

I expect better out of you, Mr. Stark.

Rating: 2 out of 5

56. Journey Into Mystery #93

Publication Date: June 1963

Writers: Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein

Artist: Jack Kirby

A shake-up on the creative team as Kirby replaces Sinnott as the artist. He draws a pretty nifty panel with a line of tanks chained together and being pulled through the air by Mjolnir. Overall, though, I preferred Sinnott's depiction of Thor. Sorry, Kirby fans...

More Screwball Science at work here (radioactivity!!! Magic-hammer-finding machines built in two hours!!!). We're also seeing some repetitive plot devices. 1963 has been the year of the hero being hypnotized by the villain, and, for Thor, constantly losing his hammer. At least they shake up this formula as it's Don Blake who saves the day, rather than Thor, risking life and limb to retrieve the hammer.

Rating: 3 out of 5

57. Amazing Spider-Man #3

Publication Date: June 1963

Writers: Stan Lee

Artist: Steve Ditko

Now we're talking. The debut of Doctor Octopus, one of my favorite Marvel villains. And what a spectacular debut it is. We see how Doctor Octopus became the deranged duodecoped (not sure if that's a real word, but screw it) we know and love. Yes, one of Stan Lee's favorite scientific effects (radiation!!!) comes into play, but for once it does so in a sensible way! Doc Ock uses the arms to shield himself from the harmful effects of the radiation, and when things go bad, so does the good doctor. From there, it's all action. Two separate fights between Spidey and Doctor Octopus, both well drawn and easy to follow. The pacing is solid, with the Human Torch cameo coming at a perfect time and propelling us to the climax of the book. I would have loved to see this become a two-part story, which is the highest of praise considering that most of these Silver Age issues just haven't been that good. Ditko continues to bring the high-caliber art, and this may be his best work yet. He particularly does well capturing the emotions of the characters, whether it be Peter Parker's angst at being defeated for the first time or the first glimpse of Doctor Octopus after his descent into madness.

Can't recommend this one more highly.

Rating: 5 out of 5 – Excelsior!

Next time, the marathon continues, with the return of the Howling Commandos, the debut of The Wasp and much more...


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