Review:Journey into Mystery #98

“Challenged by the Human Cobra”,Published: September 3rd,1963
Writer: Stan Lee,Penciler: Don Heck,Inks: Don Heck,Letters: Art Simek

It’s not easy being a Thunder God. It’s also probably not easy writing a Thunder God. This is Thor’s 16th issue and giving him convincing villains has probably been the biggest difficulty so far. This issue saw the debut of the Human Cobra! At first glance,I had some reservations about his validity as a supervillain.

And while Cobra did turn out to be a horribly cheesy villain with a convoluted origin,I still really enjoyed the issue. While I liked Cobra enough to look forward to his return,I particularly enjoyed that the story was built around plot elements that carried over from the prior issue as well as reinforcing the notion that Odin is indeed a big meddler in his son’s affairs.

She breaks his heart and he runs off to India? Lame!

It’s a little embarrassing for our titular hero,but the story opens with a temper tantrum. Thor,angry with Odin and with Jane out of his life,is tearing up his office. It’s really not the smartest thing to do when you think about it. He doesn’t have anyone to help him clean it up… Oh,was that too soon?

Anyway,he reverts to Blake and laments more about how he wishes he wasn’t Thor – thus reinforcing the newest status quo that Thor &Blake are somehow inextricably linked. It also reinforces that Odin has some unwarranted dominion over Blake. Being Thor isn’t some job for Blake,it’s some kind of obligation that he can’t quit. So,Blake does what he likes to do best –take a vacation. It’s probably for the best,he’s run off a lot of patients and the office is a mess.

The story quickly switches focus to Blake’s destination,India,where Blake’s old mentor Professor Shecktor and his assistant Klaus are close to perfecting a cure for “snakebite”. Oregon Trail memories aside,that ended up being the unintentional hilarity moment for this issue. Klaus isn’t as thrilled as the Professor though. Not content to assist,he wants credit for all the lives this is going to save!! Or something like that,because his workaround is just the little matter of murdering his boss. His plan? Not too bad actually –he’s going to allow a Cobra to bite both him and the Professor,but use the antidote to only cure himself.

I got $10 says Odin has the Cabbie killed later.

With that interlude out of the way,we switch back to Blake. He’s arrived in Bombay and,while in the back of a cab,overhears the news about Shecktor (his old mentor,naturally) dying. Why does it matter that he’s in the back of a cab,you ask? Because he changes into Thor in the back of that cab! I guess secret identities don’t count in other countries?? Thor does at least leave a few rupees on the back seat to cover the fare. This raises question though,most notably where does Blake’s wallet go when he becomes Thor?

Instead of visiting his former mentor as Blake,he approaches him as Thor and gets the quick rundown on what Klaus has wrought,including the de facto origin of Cobra. It turns out that the cobra Klaus used to carry out his plan was radioactive. I find that this makes him a shitty assistant. I mean,we knew he was because he killed his boss,but what good was he if he didn’t even know what they were working on? C’mon!

It's unimaginable something alright...

After discovering he’s been bitten by a radio-active snake and killing Uncle Ben,er…I mean Professor Shecktor,Cobra hijacks a plane and returns home to New York. Thor flies home to mete out justice,but I have to ask –if Blake’s passport says he’s in India,doesn’t Blake have to go back there and travel home officially? That sucks. So much for vacation.

Back in NYC,we meet Cobra for the first time and I’ve got to be honest. I’m not too clear on exactly what happened to him. Shecktor said he had the “power &instincts” of a cobra,but when Thor confronts him,he just uses technology to fight:venom-laced darts,capsules of vaporized cobra venom,and unbreakable cobra cord. He does have the ability to slither up and down walls and ceilings which… snakes can’t really do. So? Maybe I’m just supposed to be distracted by his swanky purple and green costume,I don’t know.

If the whole 'evil Spider-Man' thing hadn't occurred to you yet,watching him run off to a bridge with Jane should do it. Gwen's death is still about a decade away.

After a brief battle,Cobra escapes and heads for a place to get “some supplies”. Of course,he chooses the office of Dr. Bruce Andrews,Jane’s new boss. Stan does at least hang a lantern on it with a quick Casablanca nod (“of all the doctor’s offices in NYC”). If you’ve been reading along,you might remember that a few issues ago I mentioned wondering how the other Doctors who can’t turn into Thor get by with all the people breaking in? Now we know –they bend over and take it. Andrews agrees to give Cobra whatever he wants as long he won’t hurt him. Jane,in a rare moment of not fainting,finds this unacceptable. She berates Andrews and tries to thwart Cobra by calling for Thor.

Now Cobra has inadvertently stumbled onto the one thing no supervillain should do at this point:place Jane in danger. But it does works out for him. Using her as hostage,Cobra makes his escape. Thor is able to save Jane,but he loses Cobra in the process. Yep,this time the villain got away. And I found myself amusingly interested in when he might be back.

Yeah,Odin's a badass.

The issue wraps up neatly with Jane returning to work for Blake,choosing professionalism over a hissy fit about Blake not admitting his feelings. Those feelings still aren’t mentioned here,but Jane is happy to be working for a real man again. But wait,doesn’t a real man hide his feelings? I’m confused…

Stan also gives us a nod in the “Odin was a Twig” direction indicating in a caption that this all could have been orchestrated by Odin to return Jane to Thor. He may not let her in on the secret or allow them to be together,but he might recognize that Thor needs Jane around.

The 5pg “Tales of Asgard”back up wasn’t as interesting as last issue – the Frost Giants attack,Odin fights them off and imprisons Ymir in a burning ring of fire and… that’s about it. But,hey,it’s 5 pages of Kirby art and it’s only the second part. Plus,I have it on good authority that this particular backup is going to steal a lot of the lime light in the weeks ahead.

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As we close,here’s a bigger look at the cover of #98 along with some art direction that I found interesting. Think of how differently the panels below would be drawn today.

The Cover,and the two panel sequence of Thor saving Jane from Cobra's first attempt on her life. Note that the large dramatic panel as Cobra fires while the panel where Thor flies from offscreen and saves Jane in the nick of time is relatively small and almost nonchalant.

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