Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where Monsters Dwell #19 (January 1973)

Where Monsters Dwell was one of a plethora of series launched by Marvel Comics in the 1970s to cash in on the monster/horror boom of the decade. Unlike a lot of those books, I don't think Where Monsters Dwell ever featured new stories. It was a straight-up reprint title from start to finish. Since that meant it featured work by stellar artists and stories starring the infamous monsters that preceded the "Marvel Age of Comics", this was by no means a bad thing.

I recently obtained a copy of Where Monsters Dwell #19 from our friends at Paper Heroes for the princely sum of $2. If you click over to the GCD index link, you'll notice that the cover is one of Gil Kane's many 70s jobs. It's a dynamic and eye-catching cover. It is also a complete and utter lie. Well, that is an exaggeration. Yes, the lead story is called "The Insect Man" and it does feature giant insect people and a man inside a capsule. But the rest of the cover goes off into a completely unrelated direction. I think I'd much rather read the story that cover promises than the one I got instead.

The GCD index revealed to me something that I perhaps should have figured out on my own. This issue of Where Monsters Dwell reprints the entirety of the feature stories from an earlier Marvel anthology. The book in question is Tales of Suspense #24. This explains why only one of the stories in a book with the word "monsters" in the title actually features monsters. OK, maybe two, if you stretch the definition of the word almost to its breaking point. Sorry, mean people might be "monsters", but they aren't what I'd expect if I buy a package with that label.

That Tales of Suspense Jack Kirby cover is somewhat more accurate in its depiction of the lead story "The Insect Man", but still misrepresents the story a bit. The insect people aren't belligerent at all; in fact, the story even mentions they don't want to harm our human hero! The whole premise of the story is a little hard to swallow, even by the standards of these sort of things. And naturally, there is the obligatory twist ending.

"Beware...the Ticking Clocks!" has fun Kirby depictions of clocks that manage to look more interesting than the entire body of some artists' work. For Marvel madmen, there's an early use of the proto-name "Zemu", later made famous (in altered form) by a certain hooded villain. The thing that struck me most about this story was that it was very clearly tampered with by the Comics Code. The assassin Klugari never brandishes a weapon once in 5 pages! You see his fist, and it sure looks like he's holding something...like, I dunno, maybe a knife. But the knife has been removed, and whew, I feel safer already! As a result, the feared assassin apparently takes out his targets by shaking his fist at them.

"Something Lurks in the Fog!" is a moody piece illustrated by Don Heck. It does point up the fact that Heck was a better artist than he was ever credited with by organized comics fandom; he was just one who was less suited for the superheroes that took over the business. The story itself is no great shakes, about a con man scared straight by spooky hooded folks in the woods.

"Long Live the King!" is possibly my favorite of the book, art-wise. Steve Ditko really was in a groove during this period, and several panels are just outstanding. These are, however, some of the whitest Asian people you'll ever see. The action allegedly takes place in Tibet, but could just as easily be in the European kingdom two stories ago.

One thing this peculiar time capsule demonstrates ably is just how astonishing Marvel becoming the biggest company in comics truly was. The issue of Tales of Suspense reprinted is one month AFTER Fantastic Four #1, and I don't feel like I'm being unfair when I say there is nothing special about it. In fact, it's kind of mediocre as these things go. Stan Lee has spoken of his intention to quit comics until the edict to do superheroes lit a fire under him to try different things. I can believe it. Whether as writer or editor, the scripts for these stories read uniformly as if Stan didn't care to be more than average at best. What a difference some motivation can make.

Where Monsters Dwell is a 1970s comic though, no matter its source material, and the advertising is glorious. Sometimes, I just kick back and read the ads in these old comics. There is a hilariously awful centerspread advertising NBC's new Saturday morning kid's show lineup for the 1972-73 season (the book came out in the latter half of '72, despite the cover date). Were it not for the irreverent update of SEALAB 2020 that came around a few years back, the only shows I could name from this ad that I knew were the old ones being shown in reruns. Those were THE PINK PANTHER, UNDERDOG, and THE JETSONS. But the true gem of this comic is hidden in the classified section on one of the multi-ad "Shop By Mail" pages. Under the heading of "Science" is an ad for an ANTIGRAVITY DEVICE. The brochure was only 35 cents! Who knew such information could be had from Bartlesville, Oklahoma?

I won't lie to you and say that this is a great comic. It is a thoroughly unremarkable comic. But even with that, it still has a lot of points of interest. I'm glad I bought it.

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