Five stars for a definitive collection on Atlas Era Monsters.
Marvel Masterworks Tales to Astonish Volume 2 collects a great run of Tales to Astonish from issue #11-20 with beautiful art by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Dick Ayers and Paul Reinman. Extras include original art from Tales to Astonish 13, page 1 (Groot) and #14 page 6 (Krang, the giant ant) both by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. Michael Allred does the introduction. The publication dates run from September 1960 to June 1961. Fantastic Four #1 commences the Marvel Age on November 1961. Before that date, the company was known alternately as Timely, Atlas and a host of small shell companies.
In the mid-50s, Atlas was the dominant comic publisher, both in number of titles and in titles sold. After a series of unfortunate events, the folks at Atlas fought month to month for their very existence. It was at during this time that they revamped two older titles (Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery) and unleashed two new lines of science fiction books: Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. Following the success of these, they released another, Amazing Adventures, which became Amazing Fantasy and Amazing Spider-man, but that’s a topic for another day.
The pre-Marvel atomic monster craze is in full force during this run. The artists are in their pre-hero prime, drawing some of their best work to date. There’s plenty to enjoy in this volume. All the writing is credited to Stan Lee and Larry Lieber. I’ll cite the artists where relevant.
Each issue has four stories, so that brings us to 40 in the collection. There are also 10 two-page text stories, but I haven’t found many worth writing about.
I’ll describe the comic stories in this collection that I found to be the best.
#11 – “I Found Monstrom! The Dweller in the Black Swamp!” by Kirby and Ayers. An ancient creature has rested on the bottom of the Black Swamp undisturbed for 1000 years. Now, a writer relocates his family to the bayou country as background for his latest novel. His young son unearths something terrifying under the oozing mud. The towering creature relentless pursues them through the swamp. Nothing seems to harm it or deter it from its course.
“I Wore the Mask of Drothor!” by Ditko. A maskmaker falls on hard times until he constructs the magic Mask of Drothor. Now he believes he can commit the perfect crime.
#12 “I Discovered Gorgilla! The Monster of Midnight Mountain!” by Kirby and Ayers. I love this story, even though it’s a bit derivative of King Kong. Kirby’s art is excellent and Ayers inking polished. It’s easy to see why Gorgilla makes a return in a few issues.
“Save Me! Save Me!” by Reinman is a neat tale with a similar feel to the post-code Atlas science fiction from the late 50s. The logic is a bit bizarre but it’s a fun tale.
“The Monster Waits Outside” by Ditko is a terrifying tale of space flight and a frightening experience that waits for an early astronaut on the edge of our atmosphere and the brink of his sanity. Is a fantastic creature clawing at the outer hull of his capsule or is his loneliness, weightlessness and sensory deprivation leading him to madness?
#13 “I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X!” by Kirby and Ayers pits a lone scientist against a sinister creature from outer space. Can he find a way to stop this all-powerful being just when his wife tires of his weakling ways?
“I Found the Abominable Snowman!” by Kirby and Ayers has a violent thief steal the only photo of the legendary beast. He hatches a wild scheme of fame and fortune but the photo has a curse on it. Will he succeed in outrunning the curse and finding the beast?
“My Friend is Not Quite Human!” by Ditko finds a talented French carver who must create a beautiful woman figurehead for Napoleon or die. He creates such a beautiful figure that he now yearns for someone to love.
#14 “Behold I am the Master of Time” by Ditko features one of the favorite plots from the Atlas Era but Ditko’s art makes it feel fresh.
“The Thing in Human Form” by Heck also features a retread plot but with fresh trappings. A scientist and his new wonder weapon are caught between an interplanetary war.
#15 “I Learned the Dread Secret of the Blip!” by Kirby and Ayers. A radar blip rockets across the skies faster than any aircraft ever devised and plunges the countryside into a blackout. Now the radar operator bravely tracks down the mysterious Blip to a deserted cave where he uncovers an electrical fiend from another galaxy.
“I Dared Enter the Forbidden World!” by Heck has his best artwork in this volume. Two explorers uncover an odd medallion with unknown symbols and a picture of a long-extinct mastodon. Should they forge deeper into the hidden jungle’s mysteries or heed the uneasy feeling and turn back to civilization, even as the strange medallion begins to glow?
“I am Invisible!” by Ditko features spotlight seeker Professor Konak who grows frustrated with his lack of success. His fearful assistant tells him of Zuka the witch who is rumored, through magic, to possess the very power Konak seeks to create through science. Ditko’s eerie imaging that will serve him so well with Doctor Strange is on display in this one.
#16 “Here Comes Thorr the Unbelievable!” When this story was reprinted in Where Creatures Roam #3, the monster was renamed Thorg to avoid confusion with the Thor the Thunder god. Kirby and Ayers provide great art again with stone creatures that have “waited a million years to destroy mankind.”
“My Touch Means Doom!” by Heck is an interesting tale about a man whose very touch can kill. Will he destroy everyone around him or sacrifice himself to save the innocent?
“I am the Victim of the Sorcerer” by Ditko is a moody piece about an amnesiac who regains consciousness in a foggy city. Something is drawing him closer. He doesn’t know what it is but feels that it’s evil to the core.
#17 “Vandoom, the Man Who Made a Creature!” is a two-part story by Kirby and Ayers about a famous wax sculptor bent on creating his most horrifying creation yet. Bigger than a house, the inanimate figure looks like it could come to life at any second. A bolt of lightning provides the catalyst for life.
“Beware of the Ghastly Glass” by Ditko is another eerie story of curses and magic.
“I Dared Enter the Haunted Room!” by Heck relates the story of a scientist gone mad enough to create the weapon of doom. He decides to hide it in the Wormwood Home, in the forbidden room claimed to be haunted. Once he enters the forbidden room, his nerves get the better of him.
#18 “Gorgilla Strikes Again!” Kirby and Ayers bring back one of their more famous Atomic Monster creations, this time in a two-parter.
“Monsteroso” by Ditko features a monster that towers over the planet itself. Can anything stop this titanic creation?
“Robot on the Rampage!” gives us a double dose of Ditko this issue, with an old lighthouse keeper and his only companion, a strange robot. When the robot becomes crazed and decides he won’t take orders from humans anymore, the only thing that stands between him and his mad quest to wreck an ocean liner is the old lighthouse keeper.
#19 “Rommbu!” by Kirby and Ayers has a man sentenced to life in prison and his brother bewildered. While riding the train to the big house, an uncanny light sends the train into an emergency braking. The convict uses the confusion to escape. While looking for a place to hide, he finds an alien spacecraft. While most people would run the other way, John decides to hide aboard the ship. The giant alien confronts the world as a conqueror and then discovers John aboard his ship.
“The Terrible Trap” by Ditko has a lifelong trapper who finds the tables turned when giant aliens set a trap for him.
#20 “X, the Thing that Lived” is an 18-page story by Kirby and Ayers about a fantastic creature that can change his shape that threatens our world. Charles Bentley, writer of fantasy stories for “Astonish” magazine, concocts a far-out tale of a sea serpent that terrorizes the oceans. The government comes looking for him to find out how he obtained such secret information. He imagines other terrifying creatures before conjuring up X, the most sinister fiend yet. Now only this meek fantasy writer stands between X and world conquest.
“One-Way Journey” finishes off the collection in a perfect short tale by Ditko about a man who has everything and still wants more. Fueled by his insatiable greed, he shifts all his wealth to building a time machine, sending catastrophic financial ripples throughout the world. What will Adam Gree find when he travels 40 years into the future?
This is a terrific Atlas Era collection by Marvel. If you like Atomic Monsters or the artists from Marvel’s Silver Age, you’ll love this collection.