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for Monday, September 4, 2006

Astonding Stories 29

British entrepreneur Alan Class started publishing comic books in 1960 and continued doing so until 1989. He reprinted material from a variety of American publishers, including Marvel, Charlton, ACG, Tower, and others. These black-and-white comics are eagerly sought by collectors on both sides of the ocean, but remain a fine, relatively inexpensive way to enjoy stories which have rarely and, in some cases, never been reprinted in the United States.

ASTOUNDING STORIES #29 was likely published in the late 1960s; the comics are not dated, the better to keep them in circulation as long as copies were available. Its Jack Kirby cover is from TALES TO ASTONISH #50 [December, 1963]. According to the GRAND COMICS DATABASE [], Kirby's pencil art was inked by George Roussos.

The issue leads with Giant-Man and the Wasp's two-issue match with the Human Top from TALES TO ASTONISH #50 and #51. This is one of my favorite Marvel super-hero stories; I could easily write an entire column on it. Each of the 13-page chapters - "Battling the Human Top" and "Showdown With the Human Top" - is filled with cool Stan Lee and Jack Kirby bits.

It's a classic "big man vs. little man" confrontation with the twist that the "little man" is the villain. It has that wonderful "odd couple" banter between the serious Hank Pym and then-flighty Janet Van Dyne. It was wacky pseudo-science, like when Pym's ants sent him this message:

Ant Thoughts

It has incredible Kirby action sequences as Giant-Man clumsily pursues the Top and great hero-villain repartee:

GIANT-MAN: You can't dodge me forever!

TOP: No, you'll have wrecked the whole city by then!

It has Giant-Man training like a Rocky Balboa so that he can counter the Top's speed...and the Wasp running a Top robot at half-speed to bolster her guy's confidence. It even has an inconvenient visit by the Giant-Man fan club, though they seem more interested in taking photos of the Wasp. Best of all, it has the hero using his brain to catch the criminal...with the support and assistance of the FBI and the local authorities.

If there's a downside to this story, it's when Stan and Jack bring in some Communist spies for the second half. They change the dynamic of the battle in an abrupt manner. When I reread stories from this era, I find their "Red Menace" aspect has not aged well. However, truth be told, I ate it up when I was a more conservative, less thoughtful teenager.

Steve Ditko is credited as inking "Battling the Human Top" in the original comic book, but the GCD disputes this and offers Don Heck as a possible candidate. My problem - and I don't confess to be much of an art expert - is that I still see Ditko in the pages. I also see faces/figures/panels that remind me of Heck, Al Hartley, Sol Brodsky, and maybe even Mort Meskin. I wonder if Stan wasn't happy with the original inking and recruited anyone who was handy to make corrections to it.

There's no questioning who inked "Showdown." It's credited to my pal Dick Ayers...and it's definitely his work.

Giant-Man and the Wasp are backed up by several fantasy tales, two westerns, and a costumed hero with sidekicks.


Target and the Targeteers first appeared in TARGET COMICS #10 [Novelty; 1940] and continued appearing in the title until sometime in 1949. Judging from the six-page length, this story is from near the end of their careers.

Niles Reed is a metallurgist who doubled as a spy for the Army during the war years. When his brother is killed by gangsters, he dons his "indestructible metallic fiber suit," recruits a couple of buddies, and goes into the costumed hero business. By this story, he's reduced to helping a man market his new speedboat. No wonder so many World War II-era heroes retired soon after the end of that war. They would have been going after jaywalkers next.

Here's an additional bit of Target/Targeteers trivia. Some of their adventures were written by Mickey Spillane.

Jingles Splash

Charlton was the original publisher of the two western stories in ASTOUNDING STORIES #29. "The Right Medicine" was a three-page "Jingles" story from SIX-GUN HEROES #40 [February, 1957]. Drawn by Charles Nicholas (pencils) and Rocco Mastroserio (inks), it's just an amusing filler tale.

Kid Montana

Mastroserio both pencilled and inked "3 Gun Rule," a five-page Kid Montana story. I wasn't able to track down where this rather lackluster tale first appeared.

The rest of the contents of this issue:

"The Man With No Face" from UNCANNY TALES #49 [November, 1956] with art by Gene Colan (four pages);

"Mystery Trip," a two-page text story from STRANGE TALES #68 [April, 1959] with an illustration by Joe Maneely;

"Only I Know When the World Will End" from TALES TO ASTONISH #10 [July, 1960] with art by Don Heck (six pages);

"A Phantom in the Sky" from MARVEL TAKES #151 [October, 1956] with art by Jay Scott Pike (four pages);

"The Saucer That Couldn't Fly," MARVEL TALES #155 [February, 1957] with art by Ed Winiarski (four pages);

"The Third Ear" from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #43 [February, 1957] with art by John Forte (four pages); and,

"Over the Line," a two-pager from the American Comics Group's FORBIDDEN TALES #43 [May-June, 1956] with art by Tom Hickey. The other mystery stories listed above were from Marvel.

Third Ear

"The Third Ear" is worth some extra attention. Drawn by the underrated Forte, this is a pretty nifty little story. Walt Craven invents a gizmo that lets him read thoughts. He misunderstands the first thoughts he hears, attempts to blackmail one of his bosses, and ends up in jail. Amusingly, no one seems to object to Craven's continuing to wear the device, not the arresting officers, not the judge, and not the warden...and none of them seem to know or care what it is.

Craven cuts a deal with the warden to be his stoolie, secretly ratting out his fellow inmates on a variety of minor infractions. He gets his big break when he "hears" convicts planning a break. The warden promises to put in a good word with the parole board for this information.

Since Craven only knows the convict who planned the break, the warden sets up hidden guards with machine guns to block the escape. With lethal force, if necessary.

Unfortunately, the con approaches Craven just minutes before the escape: "Craven, I'm invitin' you in on this, 'cause you're a nice, quiet guy! I like you! In just two minutes, we're bustin' out of here!"

Craven tries to decline, but now that he knows the plan, the convict won't let him. In fact, he wants Craven right at his side the whole time.

"There was no turning back now...and Walt Craven, the man with the "third ear"...knew what was coming!"

I wish I knew who wrote this story. It's a gem!

ASTOUNDING STORIES #29 was 68 pages of nearly cover-to-cover comics with just two pages of text and one back-cover ad for other Alan Class titles. I'll be looking at more of those comic books in future TOTs. Watch for them!



From the Tomb 19

FROM THE TOMB is a British fanzine devoted to horror comics of the past. Published by Peter Normanton, issues #18 and #19 [$5.95 each] have an interview with Alan Class. Conducted by Frank Motler and Doc Garriock, it's an informative look at the man behind these black-and-white comics of which I'm so fond.

Diamond distributes FROM THE TOMB in the United States, but I can't speak to the availability of these back issues through them. If your friendly neighborhood comics retailer is unable to get them for you, try e-mailing Normanton directly:

Ask Peter about other issues as well. There's a lot of cool history to be found in the pages of his fanzine.



Tales to Astonish 51

Despite all the crap writers have heaped on them over the years, Giant-Man and the Wasp are two of my favorite Marvel heroes. So I was disappointed to find them siding with Tony Stark in the current CIVIL WAR event. Hank Pym's first wife was murdered by power-mad dictators not unlike the man Stark is rapidly becoming. And could "my" Janet Van Dyne ever be so oblivious to Stark and the federal government's assault on civil rights?

But I had a revelation of sorts while rereading the Human Top two-parter. For all his genius and power, Hank was almost always insecure and every mistake of science or judgment he has made along the way has only made him more insecure. Being accepted as almost an equal by "cool kids" Stark and Reed Richards has got to be doing wonders for his fragile ego. I still don't like that he's on the wrong side, but I understand why he's there.

Of course, in the fantasy world where I actually have a say-so in the fates of my favorite characters, Hank and Jan strike a major blow against Stark, paving the way for Captain America to put the country to rights. A vengeful Stark, who I see becoming a meld of Doctor Doom and Lex Luthor, makes it uncomfortable for Hank and Jan to remain in the United States. They relocate to Europe where they can cuddle, have globe-spanning adventures, and use their powers to help the weak against the mighty. The characters are such that I believe I could write both lighthearted *and* serious stories with them. Excuse me as I cling to my fantasy for a moment.



A quick reminder:

Last week's TONY POLLS questions will remain active only until sometime after midnight tonight. So if you want to vote on a new name for dwarf planet Pluto, rate DC's new Blue Beetle series, rate the One Year Later TEEN TITANS, or rate SNAKES ON A PLANE, you need to get yourself over to:

New questions will be posted sometime tomorrow.

Thanks for spending a part of your Labor Day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

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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