The Avocado Meets Paste-Pot Pete: Strange Tales #104-106

Welcome to Marvel Librarian. Having missed out on comics in my formative years, I’m reading Silver Age Marvel comics for the first time, and writing about their highs, lows, and general weirdness.

Are we all mentally prepared to see an UNBEATABLE SUPER-WEAPON?

Good.

Here it is. That’s right, the unbeatable super weapon is a bucket of paste and a hot glue gun. Maybe you don’t think this is a serious threat, but you’ve clearly never been in a room of fourth graders doing crafts. Personally, I was a little maniac with the hot glue gun when I was a kid. The classroom would basically look like this, except I’d be sitting in the middle, surrounded by props for my Odyssey of the Mind skit and picking the glue off my hands.

Sorry, having a moment there.

I think what I’m trying to say is that this is the best Torch comic yet. Sure, it’s ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in a fun way and not a mildly boring way, exactly what you want from B-list Silver Age comics.

Paste is the supreme weapon, indeed.

In the first pages, we’re introduced to Paste-Pot Pete. He robs a bank by gluing the bystanders to the walls and floor and gluing cops’ guns inside their holster. This glue apparently sets instantly and is extremely strong, making it largely function like Spider-Man’s webbing.

What I like about Pete is that yes, he’s ridiculous and silly and no such glue gun could exist, but it’s one of those things that’s completely plausible in comic book logic and physics. We’ve quickly established the threat and the internal logic of the thing is sound. Also, he wears a jumpsuit and a beret because he’s supposed to look like a painter? Paste-Pot Pete rules.

Anyway, Johnny witnesses this crime, but is afraid that changing into the Torch in front of the crowd will reveal his secret identity. Instead, he sends a flame image after Pete, which he can then later follow.

But Paste-Pot Pete’s ambitions don’t stop at banks. His ultimate plan is to steal a missile from the military and sell it to the highest bidder, even if it’s a hostile foreign nation. So he’s going to use his paste gun to infiltrate a warehouse or something and steal the missle that way, right?

Nope. He’s going to use a paste cannon to grab the missile with paste as it takes off. It’s a paste anti-aircraft gun, and this is a perfect example of a villain who would make more money just selling his tech to the military than trying to commit crimes.

GET A TASTE OF PASTE

Pete’s paste is so powerful that he infiltrates a heavily guarded military base, steals a weapon, and then escapes with almost no effort, pasting both people and vehicles into place.

Johnny shows up and tries to hit the truck with flaming spears, but Pete somehow manages to dodge them. In a box truck. Johnny then tries to stop the truck with a ditch full of fire. Pete doesn’t just put out the fire with the paste like you might expect. Instead, he uses the paste to grab lumber and make a bridge for his truck. I’m not sure I’d choose a wooden bridge to go over a fiery ditch, but Pete sure seems to know what he’s doing so maybe I shouldn’t question it. Also, Johnny’s apparently just standing around and watching while this all goes down, even though Pete is momentarily separated from his weapons.

Pete shoots Johnny and somehow pastes him to the tip of an ICBM. The paste then seeps into the missile’s innards and sets it off.

See, the best Silver Age comics have this sort of insane acceleration. We started with a guy who robs banks with paste and now we have Johnny riding a nuclear missile to his doom.

Johnny explains his predicament: he needs to flame on to free himself from the paste, but doing so will explode the warhead. Instead, he does the trick where he sets only his finger on fire and very carefully frees himself.

The missile falls into the ocean, but the art makes it seem like it’s only a couple of miles away from land. Imagine an ICBM exploding in the ocean in visible sight of New York.

Speaking of Johnny being irresponsible with dangerous weapons, this truck still contains an experimental missile. Recklessly setting it on fire is maybe not the best idea.

Johnny makes a smart move here: instead of trying to hit Pete with flames, he instead hits the paste pot, making it too hot to hold and forcing Pete to drop it. Pete now has just one shot of paste available, but he makes a pretty intelligent play as well.

IInstead of shooting Johnny, potentially fruitlessly, he uses the last of the paste to stick himself to a passing plane. You would think that the sudden shock of his body accelerating to the speed of a plane – which the narration indicates is moving close to the speed of sound – might hurt him, but clearly we are not meant to understand the awesome power of Paste-Pot Pete.

Johnny goes to the control tower to try and get the plane to turn around, but Pete jumps into the ocean. From the plane that is moving at nearly the speed of sound. And he’s fine.

See what I told you? We cannot fathom the untold power of Paste-Pot Pete.

Not only is he unharmed, but he somehow managed to land near his pre-arranged getaway boat. Check out the sailor’s sweet Hawaiian shirt.

The military is able to recover the stolen missile and the money from the bank in the truck, and state that he probably won’t dare to show up again. Sure he won’t.

This issue did a lot to convince me that yes, paste is indeed the supreme weapon.

Oh boy, I’m sure glad we’re getting back to the Wizard. You know you’re in for a treat when the hero on the cover is calling out the villain for having a lame plan.

This issue even helpfully begins with a reminder of how dumb the Wizard is, in case you forgot.

Anyway, the Wizard has a brilliant plan to break out of prison. It starts with him being a model prisoner, so that he can get more privileges due to good behavior. What privileges does he need?

Why, access to the laboratory full of dangerous chemicals, of course! You know, like prisons always have for their prisoners.

He then proceeds to make an acidic compound strong enough to blast through the cell walls. There’s no reference to the chemicals being forbidden or restricted or anything like that. They just decided that the Wizard was a nice enough guy that they should give him the full run of their shelves full of chemicals.

What I’m saying is that it’s really cheap to try and make a character look smart by making everyone else in the story rock stupid.

Sue correctly tells Johnny that fighting the Wizard would be stupid. Unfortunately for her, Johnny is literally a hot-headed teenager, and he sneaks out of the house.

Sue calls Reed for help and… wait, do I actually agree with Reed for a change? I mean, Sue already tried using reason to talk Johnny down. Maybe he does need to learn for himself.

Check out Ben enjoying some cherry pie and damn good coffee.

So anyway, Johnny arrives at the Wizard’s house and deals with his various lame traps, including this one, where the Wizard forgets that the Human Torch can fly. I feel like this happens more often than it should.

The Wizard detects a second intruder in his home, one he can’t see, and this time, at least, he remembers the existence of the Invisible Girl. What part of his house is this supposed to be? Why are there lights strung above the roof? Only the Wizard can understand the utility of this architecture.

So he heads immediately to Room 34, which is where he keeps his rule 34. Sue gets captured because of course she does. *sigh* The Wizard was so gung ho about fighting Johnny himself to prove his superiority just a second ago, but he sure is quick to throw that all out the window and take a hostage, isn’t he?

Johnny comes to Sue’s rescue and accepts the Wizard’s offer to enter the same room as her if he flames off. Now they’re both trapped in a small room with a bomb that will go off if the temperature increases, the kind of stupid trap beloved by villains who think they are smart but really are not.

Johnny first tries boosting Sue up to reach the detonation mechanism, but she can’t reach. Instead, he uses his fire just a tiny bit to destroy the hammer, disabling the part of the bomb that will go off if the temperature increases. He then uses his flame to melt the wall, pull out the bomb, and catapult it into the air with seconds to spare.

After all that, how is the Wizard defeated? Well, Johnny uses his flame to set off the automatic sprinkler system, which causes the Wizard to slip on the wet floors.

This seems anticlimactic somehow.

Love Sue’s dress.

So the problem with this is that Johnny was doing fine until Sue showed up, which Johnny promptly points out. He didn’t really learn anything at all about, say, not letting supervillains bait him by appealing to his vanity.

I was kind of on board with Reed letting Johnny learn a lesson last time, but it’s suspicious that this is the second time in two issues where he’s pro-leaving-Johnny-to-die. Maybe he’s just tired of Johnny being a third wheel on the dates he never takes Sue on.

The Fantastic Four appear in basically every issue of this, but I guess the cover is advertising a longer cameo this time.

If I were home by myself, like Sue here, I have to say that I wouldn’t let this guy inside no matter what his story was.

Johnny is off training, and he carefully switches his costume out for his civilian wear in an alley, thinking about how important it is to maintain his secret identity.

Okay, I actually love this. It’s been obvious for ages that everyone should know who Johnny is, so it’s great they just come out and say it. This, at least, should put an end to the lame plots where Johnny witnesses a crime but can’t chase after the culprit because it would reveal his “secret identity.” It was especially ridiculous because the Four’s identities are demonstrably not secret in the main Fantastic Four book.

And once again, Sue’s outfit is fun.

Sue says that no one told Johnny that his cover was blown because they all respected his privacy. That seems unlikely, knowing how people are, but I’m in favor of this lame explanation as long as it gets rid of the secret identity concept.

This guy is acrobat Carl Zante, and his plan is to get Johnny to quit the Four and team up with him. His primary argument is that Reed takes all the money and credit for himself while leaving Johnny nothing, despite his significant contributions to the team. I expected Johnny to retort that he does get some kind of reward… but apparently he doesn’t, and Zante is totally correct.

He also constantly does handstands, cartwheels, and other tricks while making his case. I can’t decide if he’s annoying or great.

You tell ’em, Johnny.

This is some grade-A bullshit, right here. This has the energy of the CEO telling his employees that no, they can’t get a raise, because all of the money just has to go into “improving the company.”

First off, you’re not actually getting equal amounts of glory if all of the money is going into scientific research that Reed alone takes credit for, unless he’s putting the other three’s names on his academic papers, which I highly doubt. Secondly, if they’re all doing the work, they all need to get paid, full stop. Sure, maybe the bulk of the money goes into a fund for scientific research, since that’s one of the main purposes of the Four, but the rest at least need to be getting paid a living wage for putting their lives on the line.

Johnny flies off to join Zante, who gloats privately that he tricked Johnny into thinking he was exploited. No, Johnny actually is being exploited, and you’re just using that fact to take advantage of him, as is depressingly common.

I don’t know why it steams me so much that the other three all insist that Johnny is being treated fairly, but it really does. 

That being said, Johnny’s new costume is certainly a choice, especially the color scheme. And the undies. And the beret.

Zante arrives with their first case, which is totally not suspicious in any way. I guess at least he’s efficient when it comes to showing his hand. Johnny flies to the bank and breaks open the vault and, surprise, there’s no one inside it! Who could have seen it coming?

Zante incapacitates Johnny with a literal firehose of liquid (misspelled) asbestos. I know I keep harping on how everyone involved in the Human Torch books is going to have cancer, but this is a particularly egregious moment.

Zante shoots Johnny in the arm with a regular gun – not any kind of gimmick or futuristic gun – which is fairly uncommon for this era of stories.

Zante escapes the bank easily with his loot. Thankfully for Johnny, the rest of the Fantastic Four realized that something was up and had Sue trail Zante’s car. They’re waiting for him as soon as he tries to get away.

As predicted, the antics with the Wizard last issue didn’t teach Johnny a thing about not needlessly picking fights with villains. He demands to be the one to fight Zante, even though he’s wounded and the rest of his team is right there. With a bit of an assist from the rest, he does manage to catch the acrobat by melting the asphalt under his feet.

Johnny tries to explain himself, but the rest are simply happy to have him back on the team. So, did we learn a lesson here? Is Reed going to give up any of the money to at least pay minimum wage to this teenager who is risking his life? At the very least, he now has to realize that paying the team would lessen the risk that any one of them could be exploited by con-men, right?

Nope! Status quo maintained!

Next time on Marvel Librarian! Doctor Doom switch places with Reed Richards and no one really notices.