My Misspent Youth — Astonishing Tales by Larry Lieber and Wally Wood

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

There were all sorts of comic books that I doggedly pursued after I gave myself over completely to the adventures of garishly costumed beings grappling in battles of good and evil. Some of the ragged publication that generated the most affection, though, were those stray issues that came into my collection by odd chance. Well before mylar bags and meticulously arranged storage boxes, comic books were disposable, impulse buys that were tossed aside. That meant digging through piles of old papers, books, and magazines that were relegated to the back of a closet or a corner of the attic could yield the occasional storytelling extravaganza featuring bygone tales of some of the heroes and villains I was eagerly snatching up for the newsstand. That’s how a very well-worn copy of the 1970 comic book Astonishing Tales #3 came into my possession.

At the time, Astonishing Tales was one of several published by Marvel Comics that featured dual headliners. One-half of the book was given over to Ka-Zar, the blond-tressed denizen of the Savage Land who was essentially a copyright-encroaching riff on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan. I liked that story well enough, but the real appeal of the issue was the character who commanded its second half: the imperious ruler of Latveria, Dr. Doom. The arch foe of Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom was, I well knew, the biggest of the bads. A solo story featuring him felt weighted with importance. Luckily, as rendered by writer Larry Lieber and artist Wally Wood, the story is also thrillingly bonkers.

This is what I want in a Dr. Doom story: bombastic commands, crumbling castle walls, strange beings, and seething menace. As a rebellion built outside the villainous monarch’s castle, Dr. Doom was in combat with the Faceless One and contending with the wavering allegiance of a hulking android servant dubbed the Doomsman. There’s a lot going on. And the situation can always escalate in oddity.

That’s a lot of story twists delivered economically in a mere four panels. Since Doom is sharing space in the title, there are only ten pages to work with, and Lieber and Wood don’t waste a frame. Much as Marvel was already known for its pulchritudinous prose, Dr. Doom allowed writers to go deep into the thesaurus, pushing the verbiage to operatic extremes. Wood, one of the true masters among comics artists, was able to elevate the imagery to meet that grand level.

As I prowled for couch-cushion coins to help feed my comic book habit, a fortuitous discovery of old comic like this Astonishing Tales issue was a little jackpot. I longed to deeply study the fictional history within the Marvel universe, and coming up an old Dr. Doom story was like unearthing a lost chapter of a classic biography. It wasn’t a pricey back issue, by any means. The forlorn condition made it essentially worthless to any collector consulting a price guide. For me, that didn’t matter. It was a treasure.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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