Sunday, 4 March 2018

Serials: The First Comic Book Movies

WAY BACK IN THE EARLY 1960s, my first exposure to actors dressed up as comic characters was in the movie serials I saw at Saturday Morning Pictures. I've mentioned here already that for a 10-year-old comics fan in the Sixties, there wasn't a great deal of choice when it came to superhero movies or tv shows. But we were able to see b-movie actors playing a couple of our favourite comic characters in serials like Captain Marvel (1940) and Batman (1943), and fake comic characters like Copperhead in The Mysterious Dr Satan (1941) and Rocket Man in King of the Rocket Men (1949).

King of the Rocket Men is a perennial favourite and the flying suit turned up in further Republic serials during the tail end of the serial cycle - Radar Men from the Moon (1952), Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953).
Movie serials were mostly made by the b-movie divisions of the smaller, cheaper film studios, like Universal, Columbia and Republic - even poverty row's Monogram managed to churn out a few cliffhanger serials - and routinely comprised of 12 or 15 chapters running about 20 minutes. The first five minutes would recap the previous episodes, the remaining running time would be taken up with breakneck chases and lengthy gun battles or fist-fights in which no one would lose their hats, and each episode would end with the hero in some kind of completely inescapable trap, which we all knew he would escape from in the very next episode.

The earliest example of a comic character in a serial that I could find was Universal's Tailspin Tommy (1934), based on Hal Forrest's newspaper strip of the same name. I wouldn't have been familiar with the character as a kid - partly because we didn't really get the classic America comic strips in British newspapers, but mostly because Tailspin Tommy, lasting from 1928 until 1942, was finished long before I was born.

Grant Withers (as mail flyer Milt Howe), Maurice Murphy (Tailspin Tommy) and Charles Browne (Paul Smith) in a scene from Chapter 6 of Tailspin Tommy (1934). Below: An example of an earlier daily strip, written by ex-newspaperman Glenn Chaffen and drawn by Hal Forrest. Forrest would later take over writing the strip himself.
Trading on the public fascination with flying in the wake of Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, the strip told of the ambitious kid from Littleville, Colorado who gets a chance to be involved in aviation when mail pilot Milt Howe crashlands near his home. Landing a job at Three Point Airlines, Tommy eventually becomes a pilot and with his friend Skeeter and girlfriend Betty-Lou gets involved in all kinds of adventures.

The serial pretty much followed the strip's storyline and did well enough to spawn a sequel the following year, Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery (1935). It's not something I would have been much interested in as a youngster, with its corny situations and its "Aw, shucks" characters and anyway, by the 1960s, air travel had become commonplace.

No doubt encouraged by the modest success of its two Tailspin Tommy serials, Universal then struck a deal to buy a parcel of newspaper strips from market leader King Features Syndicate, and set about making one of the most expensive and successful serials of all time, Flash Gordon (1936).

It was the exotic locations coupled with Alex Raymond's extraordinary draftsmanship that made Flash Gordon an instant hit with the newspaper-reading public. Small wonder that Universal had bought the movie rights within a year of the strip appearing. Click image to enlarge.
Though far better remembered today, the Flash Gordon comic strip was created to cash in on the success of the Buck Rogers newspaper strip. King Features first tried to buy the rights to John Carter of Mars from Edgar Rice Burroughs but, unable to reach an agreement, finally turned to staff artist Alex Raymond and asked him to create a space opera character. The resulting strip takes its inspiration from the Philip Wylie novel, When Worlds Collide, later a George Pal movie, appropriating the ideas of a planet on a collision course with Earth, and an athletic hero and his girlfriend, accompanied by an elderly scientist, travelling to the planet in a rocket. The strip debuted in January 1934, scripted by Don Moore, though only Raymond's signature appeared on the strip. 

Former Tarzan Buster Crabbe was inspired casting for the lead in Flash Gordon, and Jean Rogers made for an effective and pretty Dale Arden ...but because of my well-documented preference for dark-haired bad girls, I was a lot more interested in Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson).
For the serial's hero, Universal initially considered Jon Hall (who would later star with Maria Montez in several "Arabian Nights" type fantasy movies) but then cast Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe. Crabbe had appeared a couple of years earlier in one of the first Tarzan serials, so with his hair bleached blond, he made the perfect Flash.

Buster Crabbe wasn't naturally fair-haired, so when the studio bleached his hair blond to more closely resemble the comic strip Flash, Crabbe was very self-conscious about this and kept his hat on in public at all times, even with women present. He especially didn't like men whistling at him in the street.
Crabbe had gone along to the audition for the role, with no expectation of winning the part. Watching Hall and others try out for the role from the sidelines, Crabbe was noticed by the serial’s producer, Henry MacRae. After a brief conversation, and with no audition at all, MacRae surprised Crabbe by offering him the part. Under contract to Paramount at the time, and not happy about it, Crabbe said he wasn't really that interested. “I honestly thought Flash Gordon was too far-out, and that it would flop at the box office. God knows I’d been in enough turkeys during my four years as an actor; I didn’t need another one.” But MacRae persisted, and finally Crabbe told him that it was up to Paramount. “If they say you can borrow me, then I’d be willing to play the part.”

The other bit of inspired casting was Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless. So successful was Middleton in the role that although his Ming dies at the end of Flash Gordon, he would return to play the character twice more in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938) and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). 

Yet for all his physical resemblance the the Emperor of the Universe, Middleton is a little wooden in the role and speaks his lines as though he doesn't really understand what's going on. There's a scene in Episode 4 where Dr Zarkov, who has been forced to work in Ming's laboratory to ensure the safety of Flash and Dale, says to Ming, "I've discovered a new ray, which can be of great help in furthering your plan."

"H'mm," responds Ming. "Tell me about it."

"The ray is a variation of the one you've been using, but being of a higher frequency, it's much more flexible. It is picked up from the negative side rather than the positive."

"I see," says Ming, though it's pretty apparent that he doesn't.

Veteran character actor Charles Middleton was the perfect actor to play Ming the Merciless. Interesting fact - Middleton was the son of a millionaire and didn't have to work to pay the rent, he became an actor for the sheer love of it.
The rest of the cast was rounded out by Jean Rogers as Dale Arden, Priscilla Lawson as Princess Aura and Frank Shannon as Dr Zarkov.

Rogers, real name Eleanor Dorothy Lovegren, had gotten into the movie business almost by accident, after winning a beauty contest at the age of 17 and being offered a movie contract at Warner Brothers. A year later, she moved to Universal and appeared in several of their series, including Secret Agent X-9 (1937). In Flash Gordon, she wasn't given much to do apart from squeal in terror and faint rather a lot. She did make a fetching Dale, though, styled in a series of brief outfits and her naturally dark hair dyed blonde.

Though Universal took Rogers out of the serial unit and gave her roles in a string of b-movies, the spunky actress didn't feel they were handling her career very well and went to 20th Century-Fox in 1939. Two years later, Rogers still wasn't happy with the roles she was getting and secured a contract at MGM, the Rolls-Royce of Hollywood movie studios.
Priscilla Lawson (b. Priscilla Shortridge) had been a professional model before winning the Miss Miami Beach content in 1935 and being offered a contract at Universal. Most her roles were bit parts, playing "Hatcheck girl (uncredited)", "Maid (uncredited)" and "Native girl (uncredited)" in a string of b-movies. Her breakthrough role as Princes Aura didn't do much for her career, and after leaving acting five years later she signed with the armed forces in WWII. The rumour that she lost a leg in an accident on active service has been denied by co-star Jean Rogers. Lawson died in 1958, aged 44, due to complications with a duodenal ulcer.

Serial historian Roy Kinneard recounts that Priscilla Lawson's notable physical assets were responsible for incurring the wrath of the censors. Jean Rogers claimed that the the producers were ordered to re-shoot some scenes of episode 1 with Lawson "wearing slightly less revealing garb".
Frank Shannon started off in silent pictures around 1913, in The Prisoner of Zenda, but quickly took to stage acting. He didn't return to movies until 1921, where he would play a long succession of cops and cowboys, until making a cult name for himself as Dr Alexis Zarkov in the first Flash Gordon serial. He would go on to play in all three Flash Gordon serials, along with Buster Crabbe and Charles Middleton. He also had a continuing role as Captain MacTavish in the Torchy Blaine movie series, as well as appearing in the Batman and The Phantom serials.

Frank Shannon was born in Ireland in 1874. A pioneer of silent pictures, he would enjoy successful careers as a stage actor and later as screenwriter for the tv series, Tales of the Texas Rangers (1955-58). He died in 1959.
Other names that turn up are Carroll Borland (the sexy vampiress from Mark of the Vampire, 1935) as a hand-maiden in Ming's throne room, Ray Corrigan (who went on to star in Undersea Kingdom and was later the monster in It the Terror from Beyond Space) as the Orangopoid, Eddie Parker (who was a stunt player in nearly every serial ever made and doubled for Lon Chaney as The Wolf Man in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) and Glenn Strange, who plays the Robot, Gocko and one of Ming's soldiers, was later famous for taking over the role of Frankenstein's Monster in House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

This serial's budget of $360,000 was three times more than was usually spent on a cliffhanger movie in the 1930s. Yet despite its comparatively large budget, the serial was shot in six weeks with the cast and crew working many fourteen hour days, with an average of 85 set-ups a day. 

"They started shooting Flash Gordon in October of 1935," said Buster Crabbe in a later interview, "and to bring it in on the six-week schedule, we had to average 85 set-ups a day. That means moving and rearranging the heavy equipment we had, the arc lights and everything, 85 times a day. We had to be in makeup every morning at seven, and on the set at eight ready to go. They’d always knock off for lunch, and then we always worked after dinner. They’d give us a break of a half-hour or 45 minutes and then we’d go back on the set and work until ten-thirty every night. It wasn’t fun, it was a lot of work!"

The producers also saved money by re-using many sets from other Universal films, such as the laboratory and crypt set from Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the castle interiors from Dracula's Daughter (1936), the idol from The Mummy (1932) and the opera house interiors from The Phantom of the Opera (1925). In addition, the outer walls of Ming's castle were actually the cathedral walls from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).

The brief scene of dancing girls swarming over an idol with moving arms, which Ming views over a TV screen and also plays under every episode's title card, was lifted from the 1930 sci-fi comedy Just Imagine (1930). And Zarkov's rocket was originally constructed for the same film.
There's a few things that don't make sense about the plot. Why does Ming need Dr Zarkov's scientific ability to conquer the Universe, when he must have had his own scientists to build the technologically superior laboratory.

Ever cost-conscious, Universal would re-use much of the equipment Ken Strickfadden had made for Frankenstein (1931) and Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) for Ming's laboratory.
Much of the equipment in Ming's lab is Kenneth Strickfadden's static electricity machinery re-used from Frankenstein (1931). The equipment had also been used in the earlier Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), which Flash Gordon resembles in many ways.

Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) had the villain's beautiful daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy) showing an unhealthy interest in the clean cut hero Terry Granville (Charles Starrett), Flash Gordon's Princess Aura seems unusually obsessed with Flash. The earlier film had a crazed megalomaniac seeking to rule the world by scientific wiles, Flash had villain Ming bent on ruling the Universe via advanced weapons.
Also, with all the technology as the disposal of the Hawkmen, for example the radium-powered engines holding their entire city suspended miles above the ground, you'd think they would have a better way to get radium into the "radium furnaces" that human slaves shovelling the ore in.

Captured by The Hawkmen, allies of Ming the Merciless, Flash is forced to work in the radium furnaces, shovelling ore into the fission fires that power the floating Hawk city. Not much Health and safety going on here, I'll wager ...
The sound effect of the rocket ship's propulsion sounds just like a propeller aircraft of the period. Jets hadn't been invented in 1936, so the producers reasoned that no one in the audience would know what a rocket engine would sound like.

The plot is pretty convoluted, and characters seem to switch allegiances from one episode to the next. Trying to keep score requires a checklist. Here's what I managed to figure out on a recent viewing:
  • Prince Barin: rightful ruler of Mongo - enemy of Ming
  • Prince Thun of the Lionmen - enemy of Ming
  • King Kala of the Sharkmen - ally of Ming
  • King Vultan of the Hawkmen - ally of Ming, but switches sides (distinguishable by his bellowing laughter just like the Brian Blessed's Vultan in the much later Dino de Laurentiis version, though both are following the characterisation from the original comic strip)
Also, within the story, Flash does seems pretty ruthless when it comes dispatching Ming's guards or his allies. Most of them he throttles, though some are stabbed and others are shot with ray-guns. As Flash and Dale are escape from the crumbling undersea palace of Kala of the Sharkmen, Dale asks, "What about Kala and his people?" Flash replies dismissively, "It's too late to worry about them now." Cold, much?

Though by today's standards the serials may seem especially creaky - their production values are terrible, the acting is uniformly bad (though I would allow an exception in Buster Crabbe's case) and the special effects are far from convincing - they can also be enormously entertaining. And Flash Gordon is no exception. It's probably the best known serial of all, probably the most successful, and certainly the most influential.

For example, George Lucas originally wanted to make his next film after American Graffiti (1975) a remake of the Flash Gordon serial. However, unable to secure the rights from King Features (they'd already been optioned by Dino DeLaurentiis, and we all know how that turned out), Lucas was forced (no pun intended) to come up with his own story - and we also know how that turned out.

Sam Jones is horribly miscast as Flash ... they really, really should have got an actor. Ornella Muti did, however, make an eye-popping Princess Aura. Max von Sydow was clearly having the time of his life as Ming - shame the same can't be said for the audience. And Brian Blessed, criticised for his camp performance as Vultan, was actually giving an accurate rendition of the original comic strip character.
In the event, the Dino de Laurentiis version of Flash Gordon (1980) probably ranks as one of the worst movies ever made. It's wrong-headed on every level and it's pretty clear that neither de Laurentiis, nor director Mike Hodges, had any idea what made George Lucas' version of the space opera work. You'd have thought that given the source material, the budget and (some of) the talent involved, the movie version of Flash Gordon should have been pretty entertaining ... but sadly not. And for the most part, I blame the screenwriter.

Though Lorenzo Semple Jr did do a few decent movies later in his career - Papillon (1973), The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975) - he continued to write campy scripts for projects he considered beneath him - King Kong (1976), Flash Gordon (1980) and Sheena (1984).
For some reason, Lorenzo Semple Jr had become the go-to guy for comic book screen adaptations after he created the format and approach for the excreable Batman tv show in late 1965. Until Batman, Semple had been a jobbing tv writer with few teleplays of note on his resume, contributing to Kraft Suspense Theatre ("Knight's Gambit", 1964), The Rogues ("Death of a Fleming", 1964) and Burke's Law (three episodes, 1964-5).

Around the same time, he'd been hired by producer William Dozier to write a pilot for a new tv show called Number One Son, which would have featured the adventures of Charlie Chan's eldest boy, as a detective in San Francisco. Then, according to an interview Semple gave, at the eleventh hour network ABC decided they didn't want to run a show that had an ethnic lead. Dozier was apologetic and told Semple, "I owe you one." Well, that "one" was as the developer of the Batman show.

Lorenzo Semple Jr might have made a hash of the approach to the Flash Gordon screenplay, but at least we have Ornella Muti as Princess Aura.
Despite the horror of Semple's campy approach to the only superhero show on television, he was suddenly the writer you went to if you wanted to a comics adaptation. And even more incredibly, though projects like the 1976, Semple-scripted King Kong remake bombed at the box office, producers still lined up to have Semple knock off contemptuously jokey scripts for projects that deserved better. And just in case you think I made the "contemptuously" bit up in my head, here's Semple's own thoughts on the subject.

"I have moderately short shrift for serious comic book fans," Semple told Starlog magazine in 1983. "It depends on how serious they are. Collecting comics is one thing. Reading them on a serious level is quite another. Collecting comics isn't much different from collecting old orange crate labels, it's part of American pop culture.

"But to think that comics are a legitimate form of artistic expression is utter nonsense. Nobody involved in the field in the early days looked on it as such. Comics are like primitive art. They should be read for fun. To pretend they're anything else is a gross exploitation of people who don't know any better.

"Being a comic book fan is a harmless neurosis, but it is one. And for those who live comics books, and would coin the term 'panelology' to describe their study of the form, you need say very little more to me about their intellectual tastes."

Killer Kane's thugs get the drop on Wilma Deering (Constance Moore) as Buck (Buster Crabbe) and Buddy (Jackie Moran) look helplessly on, in this scene from Chapter 1 of Buck Rogers (1939).
Not only did the first Flash Gordon serial spawn two sequels and a terrible 1980s remake, but Universal also cast Crabbe as the star of their serial adaptation of Flash Gordon rival Buck Rogers, which one can only surmise was green-lit because of the success of the Flash Gordon films. Ironic, eh?

Also part of the King Features package bought by Universal were:
  • Ace Drummond (1936, based on another aviation strip, this time by WWI flyer Eddie Rickenbacker)
  • Jungle Jim (1937, based on the Alex Raymond comic strip)
  • Radio Patrol (1937, based on the police strip by Eddie Sullivan and Charles Schmidt)
  • Secret Agent X-9 (1937, based on the strip by Dashiel Hammett and Alex Raymond)
  • Tim Tyler's Luck (1937, based on the global adventure strip by Lyman Young)
  • Red Barry (1938, based on the detective strip by Will Gould)
  • Don Winslow (1942, based on the naval intelligence strip by Frank Martinek, spawning a sequel Don Winslow of the Coast Guard, 1943)
  • Adventures of Smiling Jack (1943, based on the aviation strip by Zack Mosley)
But Universal's newspaper strip based serials weren't a monopoly and other newspaper characters that escaped the Universal net reached the screens courtesy of Republic:
  • Dick Tracy (1937, based on the hugely successful police strip by Chester Gould)
  • King of the Royal Mounted (1940, based on the strip by Stephen Slesinger. The sequel, King of the Mounties, 1942, appears to be uncredited and unauthorised)
  • Adventures of Red Ryder (1940, based on the Western strip drawn by Fred Harman)
... and by the efforts of Columbia:
  • Mandrake the Magician (1939, based on the long-running mystery strip by Lee Falk)
  • Terry and the Pirates (1940, based on the legendary adventure strip by Milton Caniff)
  • The Phantom (1943, based on the jungle superhero strip by Lee Falk)
  • Brenda Starr (1945, based on the newspaper reporter strip by Dale Messick)
  • Bruce Gentry - Daredevil of the Skies (1949, based on the aviation strip by Ray Bailey)
By 1940, the film rights to all the best newspaper strips had been bought by the three main serial producers ... and though Columbia did make three serials based on pulp characters, there was nowhere else to turn for much-needed source material than the comics.

Next: More superheroes on-screen

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

What the Heck's going on with Thor?

THE EARLY YEARS OF THOR, like the earliest Hulk stories, were a succession of false starts and reinventions. After the first run of Kirby issues, Stan tried to bring in more mythic elements with the help of his brother Larry Lieber on scripting and veteran Atlas penciller Joe Sinnott on art chores. But he wasn't happy with the way Journey into Mystery - and for that matter Strange Tales, Astonish and Suspense - were going and took the drastic step of taking over the writing of these titles himself, and then giving each a meaningful facelift. That this all happened in the same month means it wasn't a coincidence, but a plan.

The July 1963 on-sale issues of the four anthology titles were the last written by Stan's hired gun scripters. Starting with the following month's issues, Stan transformed almost the entire Marvel line...

This was what Marvel's assault on the newsstands looked like during the summer vacation period of 1963. Four major revamps, more Spider-Man, the all-new Fantastic Four Annual, The Avengers, The X-men ... and limping along in the rear, Daredevil, courtesy of the tardy Bill Everett. It was like Stan had declared war on DC.
Strange Tales 114 (cover-dated Nov 1963) offered a trial appearance of Captain America in the Human Torch strip, and Dr Strange as a permanent back-up feature. Tales of Suspense 47 & 48 (Nov/Dec 1963) showcased Steve Ditko art and a new costume for Iron Man. In Tales to Astonish 49 (Nov 1963), Ant-Man became Giant-Man (or Giant Man, it varies).

And it wasn't just the anthology titles. Amazing Spider-Man became a monthly with issue 4 (Sep 1963). Strange Tales Annual 2 (Sep 1963) was published, alongside Fantastic Four Annual 1 (Sep 1963). Also on the stands that month, Avengers 1 and X-Men 1. And I'll also venture that Daredevil would have been part of the same flurry of launches if Bill Everett hadn't taken so long to draw issue 1.

Some of these transformations I've already looked at in-depth, some I've still to cover, but this time we're here to look at the third and ultimately unsuccessful version of Thor in Journey into Mystery, before Jack Kirby became a fixture on the title.


As with the above-mentioned anthology titles, Journey into Mystery received its Stan Lee makeover with the Oct 1963 cover-dated issue 97 (on sale in August). Lee brought back Jack Kirby for the main strip and instituted a back-up, Tales of Asgard, which he had Kirby draw and which he himself also scripted.

The main thrust of the plot in Journey into Mystery 97 seems to be the failed romantic designs Don Blake/Thor has on his nurse, Jane Foster. I was never a fan of this storyline, as I found Jane a bit whiney, and couldn't figure out what on midgard Thor ever saw in her.
Though the credits on Journey into Mystery's Thor strip give Jack Kirby as the penciller and Don Heck as the inker, the pencils provided by Kirby could have been no more than layouts, presumably to get Heck - on temporary secondment from Iron Man - up to speed with how Stan wanted Thor to be depicted. All of the faces here are very much in Heck's style, though the figures are very obviously strongly influenced by Kirby.

Stan also shifts the focus of the story, placing more emphasis on the love life of Don Blake, which had been merely background noise during the first year of the strip's run. To my mind this is a typical Lee trademark, spotlighting the romantic heartache of his heroes. He was doing the same schtick with Spider-Man (the Peter Parker-Betty Brant-Liz Allen triangle) and Iron Man (the Tony Stark-Pepper Potts-Happy Hogan triangle), and would later apply the formula to Daredevil.

In this Thor story, Blake begs leave of Odin to romance Jane Foster. Odin refuses and Foster - the flibbertigibbet - loses interest and wanders off with another handsome doctor she's found, Basil or Bruce (take your pick) Andrews.

Almost incidental to all this is Thor's battle with the Lava Man, a villain that's a step up from Thor's usual calibre of foe. If you look at the way Stan would handle the other B-characters during this period, it's as though he made a conscious effort to improve the villains faced by his heroes. In the few months that followed, Iron Man got The Mandarin and The Black Widow, Giant-Man got The Human Top and The Black Knight and the Human Torch got ... well, okay, maybe not so much The Human Torch. But The Lava Man did well enough to come back, menacing Thor and his Avengers buddies in Avengers 5 (May 1964).

The Human Cobra (and his partner Mr Hyde, whom we'll meet in the very next issue) was one of the key villains of the early Thor stories, every bit as slippery and creepy as his namesake.
Journey into Mystery 98 (Nov 1963) provided Thor with an even better super-villain, The Human Cobra, another in Stan's long line of animal villains. And, not wanting to stray too far from plausibility, Lee had his baddy Klaus Vorhees gain his power by ... being bitten by a radioactive cobra. And when The Cobra menaces Jane Foster and her new boss Basil-or-Bruce, the suave medico shows his true colours by refusing to resist the villain's demands. Jane - perhaps a little unrealistically - takes issue with this and deserts Basil/Bruce and returns to Don Blake, right after Thor rescues her and lets the Cobra escape ...

We never hear from Basil/Bruce again, but the Cobra would return before too long, partnered by the villain of the very next Thor tale ... Mr Hyde.

The cover of Journey into Mystery 99 is quite a bit misleading ... there's no scene with Don Blake worrying about an unforeseen menace he'll be unable to fight.
The last Journey into Mystery with a 1963 cover date was issue 99 (Dec 1963), and featured another "new" villain. Inspired by the Robert Louis Stevenson story, disgruntled medical worker Calvin Zabo is turned down for a job by Don Blake. Seeking revenge, Zabo fiddles about in a laboratory and comes up with a serum that replicates the work of Dr Jekyll and turns him into the inhumanly powerful Mr Hyde. Zabo is delighted with his new persona, and gloats that he'll be able to commit crime as Hyde, then transform back into Zabo to escape justice - though I don't believe we ever see him as Zabo again.

In between bouts with Hyde, Thor is also petitioning Odin to allow him to marry Jane Foster, though the ruler of Asgard seems less than convinced. This plot thread would continue for a few years before eventually being resolved on Jack Kirby's watch.

Personally, I kind of agreed with Odin. I didn't think Jane Foster was worthy of Thor, either. She seemed too much of a damsel in distress, quite lacking in the kind of mental strength you'd expect from a prospective goddess.

In the event, Mr Hyde pulls the old stunt of impersonating the hero and committing bank robberies, so Thor will be blamed. Quite why he needs to do this, I do not know, as he's already established that he can just switch from Hyde to Zabo and no one would be able to find him.

The tales closes with Mr Hyde in, erm, hiding and promise from Stan that Thor will again pick up the chase the following month.

Usually reliable Don Heck appeared to be phoning in his artwork for this short run of issues. What is going on with that Thor figure in panel 4 of page 7?
Journey into Mystery 100 (Jan 1964) was a relatively low-key milestone issue, as it wraps up the Mr Hyde story with no great fanfare. As the tale opens, the citizens and police of New York are still convinced Thor's a bank robber. The thinking behind this is pretty shakey. It doesn't seem especially logical that the God of Thunder would feel compelled to turn to petty crime. After all, what does a god need with bundles of U.S. currency? 

Thor figures out pretty quickly that it was Hyde behind the robberies and retreats to his Don Blake identity while he figures out what to do. Recklessly, he goes out to dinner with Jane Foster, as though he's forgotten that it's Blake Mr Hyde has the problem with, rather than Thor. It's no surprise, then, that Hyde kidnaps Blake and his nurse and holds them captive in his ruined castle, just outside New York.

Hyde's masterplan is to steal a nuclear submarine and sail the seven seas with Jane as his reluctant companion. But Don Blake escapes his bonds, transforms to Thor and is soon giving Mr Hyde a hammering.

Worried that Hyde will somehow make good his threat to kill Blake if anything were to happen to him, Jane tries to delay Thor's defeat of Hyde by, erm, hiding his hammer. Odin sees this well-meant treachery and this is to colour his opinion of the girl for the foreseeable future. Hyde escapes so Thor hurriedly leaves to "rescue" Don Blake.

This short run of Don Heck artwork on Thor was marginally better than Joe Sinnott's efforts, but far from Heck's best work. The stories looked like they were drawn to short deadlines, with Heck only putting in as much background art as he thought he needed to. And Stan's scripts seem rushed, as well, with some story stumbles that normally wouldn't have gotten past Stan the Editor.

Thor is furious that his father won't recognise his love for Jane Foster and storms about the city, wrecking municipal property and other people's trucks, so the Avengers try, unsuccessfully, to talk him down. Watching this, Odin decides to punish his son by taking away half his strength.
So it didn't come as a great surprise that Stan brought Jack Kirby back with Journey into Mystery 100 (Feb 1964) as permanent artist on both the five-page Tales of Asgard back-up and the main Thor strip. Yet, the two-part story would read quite a bit like the last story that Stan had prepared for Don Heck, with Jack Kirby drafted in to draw it, rather than looking like a proper Lee-Kirby production. While quite a bit of plot happens in Asgard - four pages of JiM101's running time is taken up with Asgardian manouevrings - and The Avengers stage an intervention when Thor's bad mood puts the city at risk, the main part of the story concerns the return of Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, who'd first menaced Thor way back in Journey into Mystery 86 (Nov 1962).

This time, the future foe's memory is restored, remotely, by Loki and the Tomorrow Man travels to the 20th Century with a giant robot and embarks on a rampage of destruction to bring Thor out. But without his full strength, Thor is no match for the robot and has to agree to obey Zarrko to save the city from inevitable automaton destruction.

Zarrko transports Thor back to the future to help him subdue the 23rd Century. My question is, if Zarrko has control of giant robot that can lay waste to a city, what does he need Thor for? But that's not important right now ... and we leave Thor, on his way to the far-flung future, with Loki gloating that Odin will never forgive the Thunder God for aiding the future criminal.

Kirby's art for this issue is a marked improvement over Don Heck's efforts, though the inking is by one of my least favourite of Kirby's Silver age embellishers, George Roussos. But Kirby's art would step up to another level with the following issue ...

Even though this feels like the tail end of the Don Heck era of Thor, Jack Kirby is here inked by the mighty Chic Stone, who would go on to produce some of the best embellishment of Kirby's art throughout 1964.
The following month Journey into Mystery 102 (Mar 1964) concludes Thor's struggle against the Tomorrow Man with only half his strength to call upon. First there's a two-page recap of the story so far ... which seems a tad excessive. Then it's on with the story. Thor, sworn to aid Zarrko conquer the 23rd Century, tries to limit his destructiveness as much as possible. Battling one future machine after another, Thor finally prevails and travels with Zarrko to the secret location of the all-controlling robot, the point at which he's technically free from his promise and can again battle Zarrko directly. Thor contrives to re-enable the controlling robot's defences and Zarrko is trapped in an energy field and turned over to the authorities.

In my opinion, despite the presence of Chic Stone as Kirby's newest (and best) inker during this period, this is still really the end of the Don Heck era. The Lee-Kirby period of Thor wouldn't start until the next issue of Journey into Mystery.

But that's a story for another time ...

The real Kirby-era of Thor would begin with Journey into Mystery 103, when Jack got his feet under the table and began to influence where the character would be going over the next five years.

Next: Comic Books on the Big Screen

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Thor: The Wilderness Years

THE EARLIEST THOR STORIES have always been associated with the grand art of Jack Kirby. But it wasn't actually that way. While the first seven issues of Journey into Mystery that featured the Thunder God were drawn by Kirby, these tales had none of the epic sweep the Silver Age version of the character is remembered for. Thor would battle Commies and gangsters and we'd rarely see more than tantalising glimpses of Odin and the fabled realm of Asgard. Then all too soon, Kirby was off the title, re-assigned by Editor Stan Lee to other more pressing projects, like the epic first Fantastic Four Annual (Oct 1963), as well as new titles X-Men and The Avengers

Working over a plot by Stan Lee and a script by Larry Lieber, Al Hartley turned in his only superhero story of the Silver Age, "Trapped by the Carbon Copy Man". The result was less than legendary.
Another artist had to be found for Journey into Mystery 90 (Mar 1963, on sale January) ... and for that task, Stan selected Al Hartley.

The tale begins with Dr Don Blake resolving to tell his nurse, Jane Foster, that he is really The Mighty Thor and that he loves her. This would be an ongoing sub-plot for the first few years of the Thor strip. Stan seemed to want a romantic undercurrent - usually an unsuccessful one - in every title he wrote. As a ten-year old I found this a little tiresome. The Reed and Sue relationship I didn't mind, as they were a couple from the get-go. Even Hank and Jan were all right, because they too quickly became an item. But could I have been the only one who thought it was a bit creepy that Professor X was secretly mooning over Jean Grey in those early X-Men issues?

Al Hartley's art in Journey into Mystery 90 is a real anomaly, and has all the hallmarks of a rush job. The main figures seem crude and cartoony and the backgrounds are sparse and often absent altogether.
Just as Blake is about to reveal his true identity, Thor's father Odin intervenes and forbids him to say any more. But when Blake goes out to walk it off, he finds all kinds of strange behaviour. Cars driving on the sidewalks, polkadot bridges and advertising posters pasted over apartment windows.

The explanation for the madness is that aliens with designs on conquering Earth have substituted duplicates for important decision-makers (and Jane Foster) in an effort to make the Earthlings confused and frightened and so easier to conquer. Yes, I thought was was a bit lame, too. So Blake offers to betray Thor to the aliens - much to the captured Jane Foster's horror - then turns the tables by giving the aliens a darn good thrashing.

It's probably the least of the early Thor stories, not helped by an especially hokey script and the inappropriate artwork of Al Hartley


Henry Allan Hartley, born 25 October 1921 in New Jersey, was the son of Congressman Frederick Allan Hartley. His father, said Hartley in a later interview, "encouraged me. He knew I wanted to draw from the time I could hold a crayon ... My father wanted me to pursue my own dreams and never attempted to steer me in any other direction."

Hartley drew for his local newspaper while still in high school, and sold a Western comic-book story to the pulp publisher Street & Smith. When the Second World War broke out, Hartley enlisted in the Army Air Corps and flew 20 missions as a B-17 bomber pilot over Europe.

On leaving the Service in 1945, Hartley began looking for work as a cartoonist, and quickly landed work with Stardard Comics, drawing his first regular assignment, "Rodger Dodger" in Exciting Comics 51-67 (Sep 1946 - May 1949), gag strips like "Zippy" and "Henry" in Fighting Yank, and a range of short humour strips for America's Best Comics. Hartley also produced art for Ace Comics and ACG.

Al Hartley went quickly from one and two-page fillers for Standard Comics, to six-page stories for Ace Comics and ACG, before landing at Timely Comics, where he produced work in many genres for Stan Lee.
It wasn't long before he found work at Timely Comics, as Hartley related to Alter Ego magazine: "I'd developed enough of a reputation that it wasn't difficult to get a job at Timely in 1949. Stan Lee knew my work and hired me. When I started working with Stan, he wrote most of my stories, although I later wrote all of my own stories. We did all kinds of genres: war, Westerns, detective, science-fiction - you name it. We’d take a theme, and I’d illustrate the story. There were no typed scripts, just a very loose plot line. It was my job to draw the story with as much excitement, surprise, and suspense as I could. Then, Stan would write the dialogue. It's hard to put a time frame on it, but I'd guess we started working that way in the mid-1950s."

After a couple of covers in 1954, Al Hartley became the main artist of the Patsy Walker titles in 1956, supplying covers and interior art for both Patsy Walker and the companion spin-off Patsy and Hedy.
By 1953, Hartley was working almost exclusively on Atlas' burgeoning line of romance comics, like the long-running Love Romances, Girls' Life and Love at First Sight. Then in 1954, he produced his first work for the title he would be most associated with, Patsy Walker, a cover for the September issue, 54. But it would require another two years of toiling across the Atlas range before Hartley started drawing regularly for the Patsy Walker titles, starting with the November 1956 issue of Patsy Walker 67.

Under Al Hartley, Patsy Walker lasted 58 issues, and Patsy and Hedy running even longer at 61 issues. Hartley also wrote and drew the 1966 Marvel curiosity, Patsy Walker's Fashion Parade, an annual-size collection of one-page items showing Patsy in a range of different outfits.
Patsy Walker lasted until 1965, and its companion title Patsy and Hedy ran until 1967. Once the Patsy Walker books were cancelled, Hartley began working for Archie Comics. Shortly after, he became a committed Christian and founded Spire Comics, specialising in religious themed comics. He also entered into a deal with Archie owner John Goldwater to licence the use of the Archie characters in his Spire comics.

How Hartley ended up drawing the Thor strip in Journey into Mystery 90 is anyone's guess. Even Hartley couldn't remember. "Superheroes weren't really my forte," he told Alter Ego. "I don't recall the circumstances that led me to draw that story. At that stage of the game, I was mostly doing work that I was more comfortable with, mostly teenage and humor stories." 

Al Hartley: 25 October 1921 - 27 May 2003
Al Hartley was by no means a bad artist. Quite the opposite. He may not have preferred drawing superhero tales, but it's plain from his 1950s output for Atlas Comics that he could turn his hand, successfully, to any genre. While we'll never know the true circumstances behind the Hartley-drawn Thor story, it's likely that Stan needed a rush art job while he cast around for a replacement for the departing Jack Kirby. "Trapped by the Carbon Copy Man" has all the characteristics of a filler story, probably plotted, scripted and drawn in days. My best guess is that Stan's selected artist also had a tight deadline and Stan worried he wasn't going to make it, so commissioned this fill-in "just in case". After all, as I noted last time, Stan and the Bullpen weren't making history here, they were just making 12c comics.

In the end, though, the replacement artist Stan settled on was an interesting choice ...


Journey into Mystery 91 (Apr 1963) gave us the Thor tale, "Sandu, Master of the Supernatural", plotted by Stan, scripted by Larry and pencilled and inked by Joe Sinnott. In it, Loki increases the power of a sideshow mind-reader, Sandu, so that he can levitate and teleport any object. Advised by Loki, Sandu separates Thor from his hammer and, binding Thor with chains, buries him beneath a building. Thor only escapes when a deus ex machina, in the shape of Odin, sends two Valkyrie bearing Thor's magic Belt of Strength, enabling Thor to escape and defeat Sandu.

At the darkest point in Thor's battle with Loki's lieutenant Sandu, Odin despatches two Valkyrie to deliver Thor's Belt of Strength to help him escape from a seemingly inescapable death-trap.
As with earlier stories, the events here further cement Don Blake's real identity as Thor, son of Odin, as the monarch of Asgard has no qualms about sending Thor the Belt of Strength when his son's defeat seems imminent. Sandu's not the greatest villain, resembling in many ways the Miracle Man of Fantastic Four 3 (Mar 1962), but as the puppet of Loki, he'll do.

As an artist for Thor, Sinnott's not a bad choice from Stan's point of view. He's reliable and has a long association with Stan and Marvel Comics, going right back to the early 1950s. And of course, he'd become Marvel's premiere inker from 1965 on, providing consistency across Marvel's flagship titles as pencillers came and went.


Joe Sinnott was born on 16 October 1926 in Saugerties, New York. One of seven children, his father ran a successful cement manufacturing plant. Joe enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and served in Okinawa, driving a munitions truck. He was discharged in 1946 and worked for three years driving a cement truck for his father. In 1949, he enrolled in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School.

One of his instructors was Tom Gill, who asked Sinnott to assist on a range of Dell western comics. "Tom was paying us very well. I was still attending school and worked for Tom at nights and weekends," said Sinnott in a later interview. "We'd do the backgrounds and the figures, but since they were Tom's accounts, he'd do the heads so it looked like his work. I did this for about nine months. It was great learning," he said, adding, "I can never have enough good to say about Tom Gill. He gave me my start." Sometimes pencilling, sometimes inking, Sinnott would work with Gill on the early Atlas titles Kent Blake of the Secret Service and Red Warrior.

One of Joe Sinnott's early Atlas jobs, here inking over the pencils of Tom Gill for the second issue of Red Warrior (Mar 1951).
While still at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School, Sinnott wanted to branch out on his own so he approached Stan Lee separately and was put to work straight away. "I'd go down to the city on Friday," Sinnott told The Jack Kirby Collector, "and Stan would give me a script to take home. I'd start on Monday morning by lettering the balloons in pencil. Then I'd pencil the story from the script and ink it and leave the balloons penciled. I'd pencil a page in the morning, and ink it in the afternoon. I never burned the midnight oil; I'd start work at 7:45 in the morning, and I'd work until about 4:30 in the afternoon. I always figured if you couldn't make a living in eight hours a day, you shouldn't be in the business. I'd bring the story back on Friday and he'd give me another script. I never knew what kind of script I'd be getting. Stan had a big pile on his desk, and he used to write most of the stories himself in those days. You'd walk in, and he'd be banging away at his typewriter. He would finish a script and put it on the pile. Sometimes on his pile would be a western, then below it would be a science fiction, and a war story, and a romance. You never knew what you were getting, because he always took it off the top. And you were expected to do any type of story."

Three of Joe Sinnott's rare covers during Marvel's Atlas years. However, his interior art output was prodigious ... in excess of 1300 pages of pencilled and inked art from 1951 - 1957.
For the next six years, Sinnott would pencil and ink more than 250 stories for Atlas, in every genre - war, western, horror and crime -  contributing interior art to the company's mainstream titles like Marvel Tales, Battle Action, Wild Western, Spy Thrillers ... though very rarely covers. 

When the Great Atlas Implosion of 1957 hit, Sinnott had to find other work. "I was up to $46 a page for pencils and inks," said Sinnott, "and that was a good rate in 1956, when the decline started. I was down to $21 a page when Atlas stopped hiring me ... Stan called me and said, 'Joe, Martin Goodman told me to suspend operations because I have all this artwork in-house and have to use it up before I can hire you again.' It turned out to be six months, in my case. He may have called back some of the other artists later, but that's what happened with me."

Joe Sinnott during his Atlas Comics heyday, in the mid-1950s
During those lean six months, Sinnott took on any commercial art job going - record covers, billboard art, Charlton comic strips and even ghosting for DC Comics artists, before Stan called him back to resume work on the fledgling Marvel Comics. And with the January 1959 Marvel comics, Joe Sinnott was off and running again, pencilling and inking his first cover for Journey into Mystery 50 (Jan 1959).

On his return to Marvel in 1959, Sinnott seemed to pick up where he left off, pencilling and inking a variety of stories for the fledgling Marvel. Then, just as suddenly, he stopped and worked almost exclusively for Charlton, pencilling for Vince Colletta's inks.
Over the next year, Sinnott was back knocking out pencils and inks on four and five page stories for Stan Lee's mystery, western and war comics. Then he stopped working for Marvel and concentrated on his Charlton work for the next two years, till the end of 1961. I couldn't uncover a reason for this.

It would be two years before Sinnott returned to Marvel. His first inking job over Jack Kirby pencils during this period was for the Strange Tales 94 (Mar 1962) story, "I Was a Decoy for Pildorr: The Plunderer from Outer Space", though he had also inked the earlier "I Was Trapped By Titano the Monster That Time Forgot" in Tales to Astonish 10 (Jul 1960).
Then slowly, he began pencilling stories for Stan Lee again, starting with Gunsmoke Western 62 and Tales to Astonish 31 (both May 1962). He had also inked - over Jack Kirby pencils - Fantastic Four 5 (July 1962) and Journey into Mystery 83 and 84 (Aug - Sep 1962). "Before Stan called me to ink Jack on Fantastic Four 5, I never knew the Fantastic Four existed," Sinnott later recalled." I lived up here in the Catskill Mountains, and I never went down to the city at that time. Everything was done by mail and I didn't know what books were coming out, even. Stan called me up and said, 'Joe, I've got a book here by Jack Kirby and I'd like you to ink it, if you could. I can't find anybody to ink it. I was dumbfounded by the great art and the characters. I had a ball inking it. I remember when I mailed it back, Stan called me. He said, 'Joe, we liked it so much, I'm going to send you number 6.' But I had committed myself to another account at Treasure Chest ... and this was a 65-page story I was going to have to do on one of the Popes." This would have been "The Story Of Pope John XXIII, Who Won Our Hearts", in Treasure Chest vol 18, 1 - 9 (Sep 1962 - Jan 1963).

It was just a few months later that Joe Sinnott took on his short run, pencilling and inking the Thor stories in Journey into Mystery 91 - 96. "At the time, the rates at Marvel were terrible," recounted Sinnott, "and I was really rushing my work. Not that I wasn't trying my best at Marvel, but I did the best I could with the limited time we had. My main account artistically was Treasure Chest. Looking back I wish I'd done better work on Thor, but at the time it was just another job, and I certainly didn't think the character was going anyplace. At the time, I was probably penciling and inking one page of Thor a day, doing three or four pages of romance for Vince Colletta, and squeezing in some Archie after supper."

It was those poor rates that would keep Sinnott out of Marvel until the tail end of 1965, when he began inking Kirby in earnest with Fantastic Four 44 (Nov 1965).


Journey into Mystery 92 (May 1963) presented an Asgard-heavy story, once again drawn by Joe Sinnott, but Lee had engaged DC writer Robert Bernstein to script the tale under the pen-name of "R. Berns" (though I can't imagine that fooled any of the DC editors).

"The Day Loki Stole Thor's Magic Hammer" is almost entirely an Asgard-bound tale, with guest appearances by Odin, his wife Frigga and Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. Oh, and Loki's the bad guy.
Stan's plot has Loki contrives to escape from his enchanted "uru" chains by attracting Thor's hammer with magical magnetism, reasoning that the hammer - made of the same material - will shatter the bonds. This leaves Thor to battle a succession of mystical menaces, hurled against him by Loki, without his hammer and, in typical DC style, Thor fashions first a hammer of wood, then a hammer of stone, as weapons of defence.

Joe Sinnot turns in a workmanlike job with the art, but Bernstein's script creaks badly at several points and has the inescapable odour of one of those Silver Age Superboy scripts that he'd been writing for Mort Weisinger. So much so that I wonder how much of a plot steer Stan had given him.

It's Stan's old friends the Communists again, this time making themselves all radioactive and hypnotising Thor to toss his hammer away ... it's not actually explained why Thor's hammer doesn't immediately return. There quite a neat scene at the end where Don Blake has to dive to the bottom of the Hudson River to retrieve the hammer, though.
Journey into Mystery 93 (Jun 1963) was a bit of a change of pace. Despite the art team of Jack Kirby and Chic Stone, the story had no Asgard at all and instead concentrated on a scientific menace, The Radioactive Man, a Red Chinese scientist who turns his body into a living atomic pile. Exactly why Kirby was assigned the art on this story in the middle of the Joe Sinnott run has been lost in the mists of time. It's unlikely it was deadline problems, as Sinnott has always been very clear about his methodical working habits. It's unlikely it was a pencilling "lesson" for Sinnott set by Stan, else he'd have had Sinnott ink it - and Stan wouldn't have been using Jack that way this early in Marvel's development.

It's a workmanlike story that seems separate from the Thor adventures on either side of it, as it doesn't in any way advance the development of the Thor concept. And Bernstein's scripting is a little careless. In one scene he has Thor, hypnotised by the Radioactive Man, throw his hammer away. Of course, the enchanted mallet should return under its own power, but it doesn't. Turning back to Don Blake, our hero invents a TV scanner to trace the whereabouts of the hammer, even though Blake is a medical doctor not an electronics expert.

The plot device of having Thor struck on the head to cause his personality shift is just the kind of story Mort Weisinger was commissioning over at DC Comics. I have no idea why Stan thought this would be a better approach for Thor what what Larry Lieber had been doing.
With Journey into Mystery 94 (Jul 1963), Sinnott was back, along with Loki and Asgard. Again scripted by Bernstein, this story had Loki cause Thor to be struck on the head by his own hammer, causing a personality shift that makes Thor evil. The two brothers then team up to cause havoc in Midgard, ultimately confronting the United Nations to demand the surrender of Odin. But second blow on the head restores Thor to normal and Loki is recaptured. It struck me as I was reading this that it scanned like a DC Comics story of the same period, hardly surprising since Bernstein had scripted almost exclusively for DC from 1957 onwards.

In "The Demon Duplicators" Thor battles standard issue mad scientist Prof Zaxton, who creates an evil duplicate of Thor, with two hammers. 
Journey into Mystery 95 (Aug 1963) trod a similar path to the previous issue. While Sinnott's art was workmanlike, the Robert Bernstein script used to time-honoured cliche of the hero's evil duplicate. Prof Zaxton is demonstrating Dr Don Blake's new android before an invited audience, with the aid of Thor. We know Zaxton must be evil because his name starts with a Z. Due to a mistake by Zaxton, the android announces he's malfunctioning and will explode within seconds. Only Thor's quick thinking prevents a catastrophe, as he flings the android high into the sky where it detonates harmlessly.

When Thor transforms back to Dr Blake and returns to his office, he finds Zaxton has arrived ahead of him and is holding Nurse Foster hostage. Zaxton demands that Blake help him modify his duplicating machine so it can replicate living creatures, specifically humans. But when Blake changes to Thor to try to stop Zaxton, the crazy scientist duplicates Thor, and a battle ensues. But because the evil duplicate isn't worthy to possess the power of Thor, the original defeats him relatively easily. The payoff is that Zaxton duplicates himself to confuse Thor, but the original accidentally perishes, leaving the good duplicate to carry on.
In another contrived Robert Bernstein scripted story, we see a magic battle over Washington DC, a cameo appearance by Robert F. Kennedy and the denouement where Thor scares Merlin into surrender by transforming from his Thor identity to Dr Don Blake.
Joe Sinnott's last issue as Thor artist would be Journey into Mystery 96 (Sep 1963), a tale which pits Thor against the magician Merlin. Archeologists have discovered the tomb of Merlin and have shipped the sarcophagus to the U.S. to put on display in a museum. But when they open the coffin, they're surprised to see Merlin looking as though he were asleep rather than dead. In fact he is only asleep and soon revives to begin menacing America, beginning with sending a rocket off course. Thor soon catches up with Merlin in Washington DC and the two engage in a magic duel, until Thor demonstrates his "superior" magic by transforming back to Dr Blake. The terrified Merlin surrenders and goes back to sleep in his coffin.

I told the story of how Stan replaced Larry Leiber as scripter on Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish with Robert Bernstein and Ernie hart, and later admitted to Larry that he'd been wrong, in an earlier post, so I won't rehash it here. But suffice it to say that Stan had become pretty disillusioned with his hired-gun scripters by mid-1963 and with the October and November issues of the anthology titles, took over scripting Iron Man, Ant-Man, Human Torch and Thor himself, and gave each of them a boost in the form of a new gimmick in the process.

So the October issue of Journey into Mystery would see the return of Jack Kirby for one issue, to set up Don Heck as regular penciller, Stan Lee taking full control of the writing and the introduction of a Kirby-drawn back-up feature, "Tales of Asgard", which would feature the adventures of Thor alongside his fellow gods, away from the realm of men. 

But that's a story for next time ...

Next: What the Heck is going on with Thor?