Amazing Spider-Man Classics
The X-Men Blog -- Strange Tales 120

We will have to wait until next time to find out what's going to happen with Professor Xavier's loss of powers because between The X-Men 4 and 5, Iceman was guest-featured in the Human Torch strip in Strange Tales 120.  And since we here at The X-Men Blog go more for publishing order than chronology, you'll have to suffer just as all the kids suffered in the winter of 1964 when these books hit the stands.

The gimmick is beyond obvious here.  Fire meets Ice, right?  And two teen superheroes fighting then teaming up, always a good idea with the kiddies.  The Torch had teamed up with Spider-Man in the summer of 1963 to, presumably, much acclaim (and then they had tussled a few months later in Amazing Spider-Man 8).  Putting the flaming queen, teen... in with a superhero of such a convenient power-set probably seemed a natural.  Plus, I'm sure it'd drum up awareness of The X-Men, if they weren't selling as well as Stan or Marty would like.

At this time, Strange Tales was running the Human Torch in the lead (14 pages in this ish), then a Doctor Strange story (9 pages here), with either the first or second half of a text story taking one page somewhere in the book.  I've read VERY little Doctor Strange, and it doesn't concern our mutant heroes today anyway, so theoretically this post might be shorter as I won't be looking at anything but the Torch story.  Speaking of, let's dive right in.

We have Kirby art on the cover, but with a different inker (George Roussos) compared to his work on The X-Men (which is inked by Paul Reinmann).  I'm not much of a connoisseur of inkers, able to name inkers by looking at their work, but I can usually tell the difference between two inkers when laid side-by-side, especially if the penciller is the same.  Pretty cool picture, though, with Torch and Iceman defending some cruise-goers against pirates (yarrrrh!).

Open up to the splash page and we see the fantastic, exciting portrayal of JOHNNY STORM READING A NEWSPAPER!!!!  Um, right...  Now it's Kirby with Dick Ayers.  Ayers was the usual penciller and inker for the Torch strip at this time.  I guess Kirby came on cuz he was the resident X-Men artist.  In any case, whether it's Ayers' inking or Kirby on an off-day, the FF just look weird.  And no, it's not the best composition.

"The Torch Meets the Iceman!"  I like how there's the note: "Iceman's guest appearance through courtesy of X-MEN magazine!"  I'm pretty sure Lee thought he was being clever here, cuz of course both magazines are owned by the same people.  And you know what?  The clever works.

(pages 1-2) Johnny is reading a paper spotlighting the X-Men's recent tussle with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  Iceman is being touted as "a frozen version of the Human Torch".  Johnny is a bit peeved but blows it off and heads for a date with Doris on a cruise.

Reed mentions that no one knows the X-Men's secret identities, so it'll be hard for Johnny to meet the Iceman.  I'm guessing the logic is that they'd be hard to contact.  It'll be interesting to see how this is re-dressed in a few issues when the X-Men go to the Richards' engagement party.

The Thing lifts a heavy thing and complains about it.  So this is Tuesday.

You know, Torch makes a simple comment that is provided to help anyone unfamiliar with the X-Men to understand the story.  As mutants, "they were all born with their power, instead of getting it accidentally" like the FF did.  I'm thinking that at this point, Lee hadn't worked out the idea that the powers manifest with adolescence.  He has made similar remarks before, and I may have even commented on them before and am just not remembering, but we may owe the adolescence idea to Roy Thomas and his "Origins" back-up feature.

Johnny muses aloud about being on a boat at night with his girlfriend under the stars.  And Susan murmurs how her little brother sure is growing up.  Come on, girl!  This guy is gonna be visiting colleges in a very short while.  You should have wised up to his post-pubescent pretension before now!

(pages 2-5)  At the Professor's school in Westchester county, Iceman is beat to asking Jean on a date by Warren, so at the Professor's suggestion, he decides to go into the city on his own.  He has an advertisement pamphlet for a cruise around the city but arrives at the dock moments too late.  Icing up, he creates a frozen pole vault and lunges himself onto the boat.  Once there, he defrosts and begins making time with the first chicky he catches alone.  Sadly for him, this is Doris Evans, Johnny's own girlfriend, who returns just then with some sodas.  Bobby takes a hint but freezes Johnny's soda as he leaves.

The plot kinda flies in these shorter stories, so I have several things I want to grab here.

First, the change in Bobby's character is kinda amusing here.  In issue 1, he mocked the other boys' wolfish attentions to Jean.  Then by issue 3, he got pubes and decided girls were interesting.  And now, only one and a half issues later (publishing time), he's trying to ask out the one girl in the group but is so shy and always gets beaten to the punch by one of the other guys.  On the one hand, I can see a natural progression.  He realizes that girls can be a good thing, so he wants to date one.  I get that.  But these are feelings that should be wrestled by a 12-14 year old.  Bobby has never seemed that young.  But since he definitely IS younger than the other X-Men, shouldn't he realize that Jean might be out of his league just by age if for no other reason?  I mean, the Professor should be giving his young teens some guidance in the ways of romance if they're going to be spending every day with him from puberty onward.  (And I mean that in the least creepy way possible....although the creepy implications are fun to laugh at.)

So, Bobby gets to the dock a second too late.  And instead of running to the end of the dock and pole vaulting over, he takes the time to undress, skates to the end of the dock on ice, and THEN makes the frozen pole vault.  (We're going to leave aside the fact that pole vaults only work because they're flexible, which ice isn't.)  Bit of a time waster if you ask me, AND it necessitates getting dressed again while hidden on the deck of a boat full of people, but hey it gets us some more icy guest star action, so it's all good, right? Riiiiight...

Poor Bobby.  He's spent the last few months of his life living with three other teen boys, a professor, and an unattainable older woman.  He finally gets some time with other teenagers, and the first girl he meets is the Human Torch's girlfriend.  I'd imagine that he has the flirtation skills of a heated desert rock, but she seems to only shun him because she's taken, not because he comes off as creepy.  So that's good.  Good trick with the frozen soda, too.  (See? He CAN use his powers without frosting up all over, so why didn't he do that to get onto the boat?)

(pages 5-14) Bobby shoulders past a couple thugs, who then break into the radio room and smash all the equipment.  The ship is then boarded by the Barracuda and a bunch of pirates (yarrrrh!), who start robbing all the passengers of their belongings at gunpoint.  But when they come to Johnny Storm, he fights back with fireballs.  Johnny gets Doris and his dress clothes off to safety before returning as the Human Torch, followed shortly by the Iceman, who frosted up while in hiding.  They both go on the attack, but both get stalled, and in the process, the Barracuda sets fire to the deck.  Iceman recovers and douses the fire.  The Torch also get his flame going again in time to corral all the pirates (yarrrrh!) except the Barracuda, who gets to a launch boat with Doris as a hostage and shield.  But he runs aground on an iceberg that rises out of the water, pedestal-like.  Torch flies by and grabs his girl and promises the Barracuda the police would be back for him.  Iceman ducks out, making frozen platforms in the water to walk home.  And Johnny and Doris continue to enjoy their romantic cruise.  Awwww...

So, the action kinda came out of nowhere and didn't stop until the last page of the story, which is kinda good for these half-length-ish tales.  You don't have a whole lot of space to mess around.

Now if you're a listener to Amazing Spider-Man Classics, you've heard Josh Bertone talk about how the Torch had a secret identity in these Strange Tales stories.  I honestly haven't read very many of them, but I've seen occasional inklings of the same.  But here, such a notion is blown out of the water.  Johnny is very obviously throwing fireballs at the pirates (yarrrrh!) in front of everyone.  So much for the secret identity, which wasn't secret anyway cuz everyone knows he's the Torch and was just humoring him.

Trapping the Iceman in a block of ice seems like a redundancy somehow...

Ok, I'm not sure of the exact physics of gasoline melting through snow.  But I'm pretty sure it's not because of some intense hidden heat.  It probably has something to do with the fact that it's liquid and therefore efficiently conducts the heat that it has by virtue of not being frozen.  The line that it melted the snow off his foot so quickly it burned him is just silly science at large again.

While making big snowballs and throwing them at the flames looks good in art, wouldn't it have been better just to make an ice sheet over the fire, taking its heat and oxygen simultaneously, and therefore dousing it?

There are of course closing lines that drench us with irony.  Doris wonders if Iceman has a girlfriend, and Johnny figures sure he must have dozens.  Cuz superpowers automatically make the opposite sex bend over backward for you.  Which is why you never have problems with Doris, Johnny.

And then Johnny snuggles up next to Doris.  Which reminds me.  Bobby, why'd you leave???  This would have been the perfect time to find some poor honey who didn't have anyone to comfort her and make your move, son!  Sigh...  No skills in the ways of love, what'd I tell you?

Now, you may be asking yourself, "Self, how long do I have to wait before I get to see the Barracuda again?  He was so friggin awesome!!!"  Alas, poor soul, the Barracuda, or Captain Barracuda as he would come to be known, will only get brought back three more times, and you can find those issues listed here.


Well, folks, that brings us to the close of another fun-filled X-Men adventure.  You know, we didn't see the Professor use any powers here.  I wonder if this issue could fit between issues 4 and 5, where it was published.  We'll check that out when we get to issue 5 next time.  In the meantime, as always, please comment below, or if you have a comment/question you'd like addressed on the air, send in an email and we'll read it on Amazing Spider-Man Classics.  I'm out!

Category:X-Men blog -- posted at: 1:00am EDT