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Tales To Astonish #77
posted October 15, 2008
Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Vince Colletta, Sam Rosen
Marvel Comics, comic book, 1966, 32 pages, $.12
It's a sign of how big a player Marvel's been in the last half-century of comics history that it seems there's always something to read in a Marvel comic from the 1960s, even one as mediocre as Tales To Astonish
#77. For example, this issue contains on its Bullpen Bulletins page a throwaway discussion of how the Avengers line-up was changed because three of the characters already had their own titles. That seems a lot more straightforward than the answers that mainstream comics companies will give even today to such questions. Another item that might make your eyes pop is a description of the Marvel method -- in terms of Don Heck rather than Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby -- as if it had never been discussed before. Maybe it hadn't.
I'm convinced that Marvel's success is derived from the talents both obvious and underrated from Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and the subsequent ability of people like Roy Thomas and John Romita to understand what was being done and not only match it with work of their own but communicate those elements to other artists and writers as they came to work for the company. There were tremendous rough patches in the line. This comic book isn't very good at all, despite some fine talents working on its behalf. The Sub-Mariner story is entrenched firmly in the title's frequent Atlantis backroom political material that was rarely convincing and never fun -- a lot of Lady Dorma and nameless viziers and Namor sporting some sort of silly crown or cape. Gene Colan's layouts are just fine, but Vince Colletta's finishes could hardly be less suited to bringing out what's attractive in the penciler's style. Frankly, it's a hard slog.
The Hulk story also clings to a boring setting: the military base the creators should have left behind by the third or fourth issue and definitely should have bailed on whenever Glen Talbot showed up and starting knocking readers to the floor with the powers of his awesome dullness. Seriously, the army base stuff was just awful. Imagine if Lee and Ditko had set the first two dozen Spider-Man adventures in the science lab where Peter Parker received the spider bite and you'll begin to see how stifling that backdrop was. The good news is that the Hulk fights the Executioner, one of the underrated Marvel bad guys. He's basically a bulky, immortal thug with a bald head, dubious facial hair and a fetish for giant axes. Seeing those two tussle is sort of like downloading an old wrestling show for the awfulness of its main events and finding a not half-bad Arn Anderson/Steve Williams dominating the first half hour. You almost forgive the authors their bizarre interpretation of Asgardian immortality as a kind of Warner Brothers cartoon resiliency and the weirdness of the character's giant Martian-walker looking army. The story practically moans with the sound of Richard Kimble-style plot lines yet to come, as Dr. Banner's presence on the military base seems about to go the way of the dodo. John Romita's finishes over Jack Kirby's layouts are suprisingly lifeless. It's not an inspiring effort from any quarter, but it's still a comic from Marvel's finest period and there are many days I'd rather read ads from a great run of books than the best comic in a mediocre, derivative era.