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for Monday, June 5, 2006

Uncanny Tales 82

"The Sandman Cometh!"...just as our opening rotation brings us back around to ALAN CLASS COMICS. Veteran TOT readers know of my fascination with these British black-and-white reprints of American comics. Published from the 1960s through the 1980s, these comics present stories from several publishers: Atlas/Marvel, ACG, Tower, Charlton, and others.

UNCANNY TALES #82 was most likely published in 1971 or shortly thereafter. As there were no listed dates on these comics, I can't be more specific. I can tell you the Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers cover was from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #70 [July, 1961] and that Kirby/Ayers also pencilled and inked the 13-page "Sandman" story.


"The Sandman Cometh!" - likely plotted by editor Stan Lee and written by Larry Lieber - is typical of the monster stories Marvel was publishing in those pre-Fantastic Four days. The Sandman is an alien creature and would-be conqueror of our world, released from suspended animation by a father determined to turn his bookish son into a "real man." Do I have to tell you who ultimately saves the day for mankind? I didn't think so.

The alien Sandman has some of the attributes of the Spider-Man villain introduced a few years later. Among the major differences between the two are that the alien Sandman could sculpt his sand to disguise himself as human beings and the human Sandman is generally a lot more creative in the use of his powers. As near as I could figure, the alien Sandman's master plan was to absorb all the sand on all our beaches and conquer the world through sheer height, not to mention robbing the future of "Girls Gone Wild" videos filmed on spring break. The fiend!

This alien sandman is deemed a "prototype" of the Spider-Man villain by people who want to sell you JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #70 at a higher price than the issue should command. If you believe that it is a prototype, then I have this bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in purchasing as well.


No, really. This Sandman is no more a prototype of the later villain than Tony Bennett is a prototype of me. The two share a name and some powers. That's all.

Over the past decade, comics dealers have been promoting the idea of "prototypes" and books like the OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE have been aiding and abetting them in that scheme. In its JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY listing alone, the newest edition of the guide includes so-called prototypes of the Invisible Girl, the Hulk, Sandman, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Mister Hyde...and not one of them is anything of the sort. I scorn those who would deem them as such and I mock those foolish enough to literally buy into this scam.

Moving right along...

A Thousand Years

The issue also reprints the other two tales that ran in JIM #70. "A Thousand Years" (5 pages) is a typical deal-with-the-devil yarn that takes great pains to not refer to the devil as the devil. A prison inmate signs a contract - no mention of selling his soul - guaranteeing him his freedom and a thousand years of life to boot. An earthquake allows him to escape. He hides in what he thinks is a plane; it's actually a remote-controlled rocket built to travel in space forever. The convict won't get hungry for his guaranteed span, but he's facing a thousand years of boredom and loneliness. The tale ends with him hoping it's all a horrible nightmare and too afraid to pinch himself to find out for sure. This one was drawn by Paul Reinman.

Stone Man

"The Stone Man" is one of those incredible Steve Ditko shorts that ran in all of Marvel's monster comics. It's almost a fantasy parable. A poor man prays to a statue of an ancient hero to save his impoverished village. Gold sprouts from the ground in response to his prayer, but the greed of the townspeople make them cruel and indifferent to the suffering of others. The statue comes to life, makes the gold go bye-bye, and flies off into the sky with the poor man, promising the man will be rewarded for his faith. How's that for a surprising sermon?

The Challenge

There are only two non-Marvel stories in this issue, both of them single-page fillers running on the inside covers.

"The Challenge" is on the inside front cover; it's definitely from Charlton Comics and it looks like Rocco Mastroserio art to me. The moral of the story is that, when we travel into outer space, we might catch alien diseases.

Puzzle the Ring

On the inside back cover, "Puzzle of the Ring" is from ACG's ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN #91 [December, 1957]. A couple find a engagement ring in a fish caught the day before the woman lost that very ring while swimming. This "Huh?" tale was pencilled and inked by Ogden Whitney.

Mighty Oak

"The Mighty Oak" is an oak tree brought to sentience by atomic testing. It plans to take over the world to protect the world from man and his weapons. Written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko, the twist is that the scientists conducting the test deliberately caused the tree's evolution:

"We did what we had to do! Someday, in the distant future, the mighty oak may govern us all...and perhaps those stately, peaceful trees will do a better job than man! We shall see! Yes, we shall see...!"

The story is from STRANGE TALES #100 [September, 1962].

Where Walks the Ghost

There are two more Ditko-drawn stories in this issue. "Where Walks the Ghost" is from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #68 [May, 1961]. It has yet another escaped convict, this one looking to rent and hide out in a haunted house. It turns out the house is haunted by the realtor who, realizing his client is a criminal, terrifies him into surrendering to the police.

The Frightening Fog

Written by Stan Lee, "The Frightening Fog" [TALES TO ASTONISH #28; February, 1962] is a classic. The entire earth is surrounded by a fog so thick that it brings the planet to a standstill. The Ditko art is incredible, far better than this reprint or my scan of its splash page could show.

The twist ending? Benevolent aliens created this fog to hide our world from a fleet of deadly space pirates. When the pirates have passed, the fog lifts and mankind never knows how lucky it was or that it has friends in space.

While the City Sleeps

From JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #44 [March, 1957] comes "While the City Sleeps!" (4 pages). Drawn by Doug Wildey, the amusing story has a midget criminal committing crimes and hiding out in the guise of a ventriloquist's dummy. When the cops start searching each and every dwelling after one such crime, the mini-crook suddenly comes up with a suspended animation pill he got from a scientist. After ingesting it, he'll appear to be an actual doll for a period of 24 hours. Unfortunately, the absent-minded scientist handed him the wrong pill. The crook will be in his doll-like state for at least twenty years. The moral of the story is that nobody can cheat the law. Even if one's punishment must arrive so totally out of left field that it's not even in the ballpark.

"Discovery" is a 2-page text story with a spot illustration by Joe Maneely. It ran at least four times that I could find. First in ASTONISHING #54 [October, 1956] and thereafter in STRANGE TALES #67 [February, 1959], #86 [July, 1961], and #105 [February, 1963]. I tried reading it from the beginning and got seven paragraphs into it. I tried reading it from the ending and went three paragraphs. The story seems to be about a skinny guy and a candy bar that gives him super-strength. It just made me yawn.

Behind the Mask

The final story in the issue is "Behind the Mask" (4 pages). A splash panel blurb proclaims it to be "a mystery tale to hold you breathless!" Well, it's not that, but it was a neat little message story about a homely man who wears a mask to make himself look more attractive to the wealthy women he courts. The masks keep failing on him before he can seal the matrimonial deal. But, when the guy honestly falls in love with a poor girl and reveals his true face to her, he finds that his real face is now the same as the handsome face of his mask.

The real mystery is...where the heck did this story originally appear? My online search revealed three possible suspects.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #39 [October, 1956] has a story with this title and lacking an identifying job number. That suspect is said to have been drawn by Paul Reinman, but the art of the story I just described doesn't look like Reinman's work to me. I won't rule it out - Reinman stories were sometimes pencilled by Joe Sinnott and others in the 1960s - but it doesn't look like Reinman's art to my hardly-expert eyes.

MYSTIC #49 [July, 1956] also had a 4-page story with the same title. That one was drawn by Dave Berg.

Finally, adding an exclamation mark to the title, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #48 [July, 1957] has "Behind The Mask!" with art credited to Jay Scott Pike. The story reprinted in this British comic could be drawn by Pike, but that doesn't seem quite right to me either. I think I'm out of my league here.

If anyone among my readers can definitely identify this neat little tale, I'll be delighted to festoon you with virtual laurels in a near-future column. I'm counting on you, gang.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some gems and not-quite-gems of the 1950s and 1960s...and especially the scans I lovingly made from UNCANNY TALES #82. Thanks for visiting today and I'll be back on Wednesday with another column.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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