|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.|
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.|
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
WHO THE HECK IS 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.|
|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.|
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|
In the end, though, the replacement artist Stan settled on was an interesting choice ...
THOR MK 2Journey 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 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.
WHO THE HECK IS JOE SINNOT?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).|
|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.|
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|
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.
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).
AND BACK TO THORJourney 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.|
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.
(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.
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.|
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.|
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?