Two issues ago,Thor fought off an alien invasion. Then he spent the next two dealing with Loki. Judging from the last nine issues,I was certain we’d see some communists show up in Journey into Mystery #93.
But the cover got me for a second. It depicted Thor locked in battle with the Radio-Active Man! While I know my Marvel heroes,I’m not the most well-versed with Marvel’s villains and I didn’t immediately realize this was the Radioactive Man. Y’know,the one that’s a communist?
I don’t really mind the communist antagonists showing up in the book as it’s simply a reflection of the times. What’s interesting is that modern readers tend to groan whenever a comic tries to incorporate or echo current events these days,but I somehow doubt any of the readers of 1963 objected similarly. That’s a whole different article though.
This issue depicts Thor’s involvement in what’s essentially a battle of the Sino-Indian Border War that occurred in Northern India a few months before this issue was published. While the specific battle was fictional,I was surprised by how much Thor “interfered” when I realized exactly what the story was depicting. I just don’t feel like we get stories like this anymore. This is basically akin to Superman flying into Kuwait to repel Saddam’s forces and I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen in the 90s Superman issues.
Anytime Thor battles mortal men,it’s over pretty quickly. He takes out some tanks (and hammer-mails them to the Indian Army in a cool panel) before starting rockslides and floods to protect the Indian forces from further invasion. The Chinese military leaders,insistent that “Communism is the mightiest force on Earth”,even mightier than Thor,order a group of scientists to come up with a weapon to stop the thunder god.
One in particular,Chen Lu,already has a weapon he’s been waiting to use. In a sequence that echoed (but far pre-dates) the Hulk’s origin from the television show,Chen Lu hops in his machine,radiates himself,and becomes a giant hulking radioactive dude. He doesn’t simply die because 1) it’s comics and 2) he’s immunized himself to radiation (see #1). As I said,I didn’t immediately realize I was reading the origin of the Avengers foe until they name-checked Chen Lu. The origin is a little hokey,but it’s always cool to see a first appearance.
Chen Lu then travels to the US and demands a fight with Thor. Interestingly,his radioactivity is slightly addressed in that he “tones it down” when he’s around his superiors,but I’m not sure what happens to the people in NYC that encounter him. He’s leaving glowing footprints all over the place,so I don’t imagine he’s safe to be around. Honestly,I found myself wishing it was addressed a little more. They’re fighting communists here,so a little radiation safety wouldn’t hurt,would it?
Thor confronts Chen Lu,but fares miserably. The hammer seemingly can’t hurt him,Then,Thor displays the odd new ability to shoot lightning bolts from his hands,but that doesn’t faze Chen Lu either. Done with the battle,Chen Lu matches Thor’s odd hand-lightning with an odd one of his own:radioactive hypnosis! (see #1)
Now enthralled,Thor is commanded to “toss away” the hammer and…it doesn’t come back. I found hat particularly disappointing because we’ve already seen this whole exchange. Loki tried the exact same tactic in his first appearance and it didn’t work then. There is,of course,a subtle difference between tossing and throwing,but just how finicky is this hammer’s enchantment? It works when he kicks it for cryin’out loud…
Worse still,Thor “tosses” it too far (is it really a toss if he threw it too far?) and Chen Lu angrily has to go retrieve it. He leaves Thor and misses out on his transformation back to Blake (which again dehypnotizes him). There’s actually a little bit of inadvertent hilarity here. Chen Lu returns from looking for the hammer and he’s even more angry that it had seemingly disappeared! When does Chen Lu get back? Right after Thor changes to Blake. Maybe he would’ve had more success if he’d tried looking for it for more than a minute.
Chen Lu walks off to find Thor as Blake races home. Interestingly,we have a real story brewing here! Chen Lu is on the loose,Blake has no idea where the hammer is – we’ve got a chance for some real drama. But there’s one little problem. We’re on page 12 of 13.
And we’re not to be continued,oh no. Think Smallville Finale. Or Blackest Night. We’ve got two pages to wrap this baby up and that can only mean one thing:plotholes. Blake uses some unknown electronic expertise to build a “hammer finder” and locates the hammer under 80 ft of water in the Hudson River. I’m just going to move on because I really liked the next part.
We’re down to our last page and we spend six panels struggling with Blake as he does his best to reach the river bottom despite his bum leg. It’s actually a fantastic sequence – the resolution of this story hinges on Blake being heroic in his mortal form and doing something exceptionally difficult for him personally. It was really cool,but it also left us with only five panels to deal with Chen Lu. Sadly,it only took four.
In the most economical sequence in the whole issue,Thor finds Chen Lu,picks him up with a tornado,drops him off in China hours later,where he explodes (don’t worry,he’ll be back). This leaves the last panel for our trite ending,where Jane comments on the awesomeness that is Thor while Blake dismisses her and shoots us a wink. I know it’s a cliché of the times,but that part is quickly becoming my least favorite.
This issue was okay. I’ve enjoyed Bernstein’s writing these last two issues and it was nice to get Kirby back for this issue too. I think this issue is summed up best as having a lot of lost potential. In the opening I talked about how the cover got me interested in a big superhero battle and that the sudden arrival of the communist angle was jarring,but it did setup a story with a serious tone. In the end,we got neither. The tone of the story is quickly deflated when Chen Lu radiated himself to become villain of the month. Which did fulfill the promise made by the cover,but there was no battle in the end either. Blake’s adventure in the Hudson was the highlight of the book for me,which helped me to choke down that “remote hammer viewer”.
As we close,here’s a bigger look at the cover of #93 along with two selected panels.