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Strange Tales 133
"The Terrible Toys!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND June, 1965

Written In The Magnificent STAN LEE Tradition!

Illustrated In The Majestic BOB POWELL Manner!

Inked In The Magniloquent MICK DEMEO Style!

Lettered In The Mortaged SAM ROSEN Home!

Reviewed In The Mighty STEVE CHUNG Sleep!

(Originally Reviewed On 03/01/02)

On the splash page, The Thing is caught in the vise-like grip of an old villain's mechanical contraption, while The Human Torch's flame is being flamed off by an icy female mannequin!

Johnny tells Ben to keep trying to break free of what he calls an overgrown nutcracker, while Ol' Blue-Eyes assures him that it's exactly what he's trying to do, but he is unable to so much as put a dent in it, then tells Johnny to flame on, while the villain of the issue tells The Thing that The Human Torch will be foiled by his female mannequin, which blasts him before he can fully flame on! The villain tells them that they don't stand a chance, having had the chance to prepare for months, which leaves Bashful Benjy wishing that the guys they go up against wouldn't make speeches. Nodding in agreement, the villain, confident that the two members of The Fantastic Four are trapped, heads off to deal with their two girlfriends, Doris Evans and Alicia Masters! Johnny begs him to come back, while Ben threatens to clobber him, while the villain regards it as empty threats, as he vows to return shortly! In the same building, but a few floors up, Doris and Alicia are checking out the art department of the department store, while waiting for Ben and Johnny to return, with each girl assuring the other that their boyfriend got the other into trouble, and suspect that the boys dumped them since they were bored with the art exhibit, and Alicia grudgingly agrees that the boys aren't so crazy about culture.

The only way they managed to get Ben and Johnny to come in was to promise them to visit the sporting goods department, with Johnny not so crazy to go shopping with the girls, and Dorrie pointing out that they've always gone wherever they choose, and Ben tells them that he and Johnny are going to check out the men's department, as soon as they can find it. Ben pauses to ask a woman where it's located, and is slightly irritated when she doesn't answer, and both Johnny and Dorrie ask him to keep his cool. Dorrie tells Bashful Benjy that he's been talking to a mannequin, Johnny is sure that it takes a dummy to know one, and Ben covers his eyes, telling them that he knew it all the time! Johnny admits that the mannequin looks more lifelike than some girls he knows, while Ben is still embarrassed, Dorrie is wondering who Johnny meant, and Alicia takes a moment to examine the mannequin by touching it, sensing that it is not made of wax, but an unfamiliar material, just as a hand reaches out and grabs hers, as the owner's voice demands that she remove her hand! As Alicia begins to apologize, Ben pipes in for the man to let go of her hand... now!

It's now Ben's turn to grip the man by the shoulder, and the startled man removes his hand promptly. Ben points out that Alicia is blind, which is why she was touching the statue and "see" what it looks like, then tersely tells the man that he doesn't want Ben to think that he's mad with her, which the man sheepishly apologizes, while Johnny watches and admits that staring down The Thing is much different than dealing with a handicapped girl. The man gloats to himself that they are unaware of his true identity, and that they are in fact in his trap, while Ben tells him to split, but the man tells them that he fashioned the mannequin out of a new material, which he feared would be damaged when touched, with Ben not the least bit interested, but Alicia insists that they listen to what he has to say. Thanking her, the man offers them four tickets for the sculpture exhibit on the top floor, and for them to be guests in the sub-basement, where he can show them his own work! Since they're free, Ben gladly takes them, while Alicia is delighted to attend the sculpting exhibit and is eager to learn about other sculpting techniques. As they walk away, Johnny doesn't know why he's been dragged into the sculpting exhibit, while Dorrie assures him that it's for his own good, and Alicia tells Ben that there's something familiar about the man they met.

Descending the stairs, the disguised villain is pleased that the four suspect nothing, but Alicia was the main one he was worried about, changing his voice to keep her from identifying him. With all prepared, his plan for revenge is ready, and they are to be destroyed by their old foe... The Puppet Master! Once having used radioactive clay to control people with puppets, he now controls living statues he creates, which began with the discovery of his chemi-ray process. While working with statues, a cat jumped onto the table, bathed with the chemi-ray, and turned into a living statue, which is a way to beat The Torch and The Thing! After some time, the cat turned back to normal, but the seeds of a plan began to form, and with the addition of a few chemicals, the transformation would be a permanent one. Having survived the last meeting with The Torch and The Thing (Strange Tales #126), The Puppet Master subjected himself to plastic surgery to disguise himself, and for the second step, he constructed deadly dolls... toys which will follow his every command, and even his stepdaughter will pay for taking their side over his!

Knowing that The Thing's strength has been a thorn in his side, The Puppet Master has constructed a nuclear-powered automatic clamp, which exerts over 100,000 pounds of concentrated pressure, and The Human Torch will face a toy ice queen, which will fire high-powered jets of super-cooled air, measuring at 240 degrees below freezing! These creations of his cannot betray him. At the exhibit, Johnny wants to cut out, while Ben tells him that he's not couth, Johnny asks Ben if he wants to stay, and Bashful Benjy tells him to bite his tongue! Alicia and Dorrie are impressed by the statues, with the sculptress sensing their delicate form by touching them. Ben suggests to Johnny that they visit the sub-basement and get it over with, while the girls are occupied, and Johnny smiles since they can go bowling or something after leaving the department store. Both take their leave, having had their fill of culture.

Descending the stairs, Johnny is startled by the spooky atmosphere, while Ben offers to hold his hand. With the doors open, Johnny doesn't see the sculptor, and Ben tells him to wait. Johnny and Ben give the place a quick once-over, seeing a light in the next room, they enter, seeing on a nearby table, tiny puppets of themselves, which Ben and Johnny recall as being the trademark of The Puppet Master! Their discovery comes too late, as his creations attack!

Bashful Benjy removes his hat and coat, while Johnny flames on, but The Puppet Master stands his ground, just as the giant clamp grabs The Thing from behind, and when The Torch soars towards him, the ice queen mannequin causes his flame to go out! With Ben trapped and Johnny without his flames, he wonders what they've tumbled into!

The Puppet Master continues to gloat, while upstairs, Dorrie and Alicia notice that the boys have left them alone, as a guard gives them a note from them. Reading it, Dorrie tells Alicia that they've gone to the sub-basement to check out the statues, and for them to come, noticing that the writing looks a bit off, and Alicia is pleasantly surprised that the boys are developing an interest in art. Below, Ben strains agains the clamp, while Johnny tells him to lay off the sound effects, and give him a chance to think. Ben points out that his thinking was what got them into this mess in the first place, and Johnny notices that each time he moves, the mannequin raises an arm to put out his flame, while Ben notes this and returns to his straining and groaning.

Since he can't break the vise, Johnny urges Ben to move the device towards him, quickly, while The Thing points out that it's not exactly a feather he's wrestling with. Johnny dives behind the device, with Ben receiving the blasts of cold air, giving a chance for Johnny to flame on, and Ben become a snowman! The Torch melts the clamp, and Ben charges towards the mannequin...

Ben punches out the mannequin, with Johnny admiring his handiwork, then melting it, and The Thing bashing the nuclear-powered clamp to bits. Both turn and see The Puppet Master in the other room, proably waiting to trap the girls, and seeing both The Torch and The Thing, he begins to activate his machine, with Johnny striving to burn through the quartz window, and Ben tells him to stand aside...

Picking up the remains of the nuclear clamp, The Thing hurls it at the window, and The Puppet Master is caught into the beam, which turns him into a mannequin! (Holy Catrall, Batman!) Hearing Dorrie and Alicia coming down the steps, Johnny tells them that the sculptor left, and Ben wonders if the police will be able to change The Puppet Master back to normal, perferring the villain in his new plastic state. Ben sounds like he regrets not seeing the statues, and Alicia sees that he is disappointed, and Dorrie offers to take them to some nearby art galleries, instead! Alicia agrees and both boys grumble under their breath, with Ben regreting having dealt with The Puppet Master so quickly!

The star of the story would have to be the merry bantering between Ben and Johnny, giving the rhythm of a Three Stooges short or an Abbott and Costello movie.

Mick Demeo is actually Mike Esposito.

Later in the Silver Age, The Puppet Master would team-up with The Mad Thinker and Egg-Head as The Triumvirate of Terror, bringing in such heroes to opposed them as The Avengers, Captain Mar-Vell, and Toro.

As with Professor Jack's "Sinister Space Trap", The Thing finds himself in another Silver Age death-trap.