Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Single Issue Review: Strange Tales #100

Marvel didn't spring out of thin air in the early 1960s; rather it developed slowly, evolving out of the Atlas line, which mostly consisted of so-called "horror" titles like Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense. This was the last all-horror Strange Tales issue; with #101 the magazine began featuring the Human Torch series.

The issue leads off with The Man in the Crazy Maze, drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers. An unscrupulous carnival operator decides to make a maze where no route leads to the exit. By promising anybody who can reach the exit $10,000, he gets a lot of suckers to try to solve the maze. Indeed, it becomes a financial drain to the locals:

Then a new maze opens up in town. This one doesn't offer a prize, but it's fun and costs less than Charlie's maze. Losing business, Charlie accepts a deal from the new maze owner; if he can find his way out of the new maze, the new owner will pack up and leave town. Charlie agrees, but as he searches the new maze, he cannot find the way out. In the end we learn there is one exit: down to Hell, and the new owner is the devil himself.

Comments: Nice ending, overall an entertaining story. Charlie had killed a newspaper reporter who was onto him, so there's no question he deserved his fate.

The second story is The Imitation Man, again with Kirby/Ayers art. Zarago is a dictator of a Central American republic who looks to be patterned on Fidel Castro. As he rules with an iron fist, he's subject to occasional assassination attempts. He learns that an inventor has invented a machine that will duplicate any living creature exactly. Deciding that this will enable him to clone a double who can take risks by appearing in public, Zarago orders the inventor to copy him. Of course, you can guess the problem:

Realizing that his duplicate is just as power mad and greedy as himself, Zarago kills him. But in the meantime, the machine has spit out a dozen more dopplegangers, and the army, in the confusion, rises up against the multiple Zaragos and destroys them all, including the original. A democracy is instituted. And the inventor discloses to the reader that he planned this all along because Earth has no room for men like Zarago.

Comments: A clever story, although it would have been stronger if we knew who the inventor was. Was he a CIA agent sent to overthrow Zarago? Was he someone who lost a family member in the revolution that brought Zarago to power?

The third story is Beware the Uboongi. A US survey ship lands on Uranus, but fails to last the 24 hours required to establish it as our territory, as they are chased off by the fearsome Uboongi. The Soviets take advantage of the opportunity to send their own spaceship to Uranus, despite being warned that one of the two species of animals on that planet is deadly while the other is peaceful. The Soviets reason that the beast that looks like a rhino must be the dangerous one, while the sheep-like looking creatures are safe. But it turns out to be the wrong decision:

Comments: Entertaining, but entirely predictable. Art by Don Heck.

The final story is The Mighty Oak, drawn by Steve Ditko. An oak tree near the site of an atomic blast suddenly finds itself sentient, and capable of moving about.

The oak begins planting little acorns wherever it goes, knowing that they will grow up to be intelligent oaks as well, and one day, when they have sufficient numbers they will take over.

Meanwhile, what of the humans? It turns out that the people who ran the atomic exercise are not surprised to learn of the intelligent oak, and his plans:

Comments: Surprising ending. There were a lot of "mankind has screwed things up royally," plots around in the early 1960s; it seemed like a rare episode of the Twilight Zone that didn't have that as an underlying theme. Still it's hard to believe that not only would scientists welcome our new oak overlords, but that they'd actually create them.