Strange Tales #81, "The Scarecrow Walks!"

STRANGE TALES #81; February 1961; published by Marvel Comics (well, 
actually, on the indicia, by Vista Publishing Inc.); Stan Lee, editor.  On  the cover
by Jack Kirby, a huge straw-stuffed figure, which actually looks kind  of cute
and cuddly except for its gigantic size, is nonetheless terrorizing the 
populace, grabbing and pulling down a building with people looking out of the 
windows while other panicked citizens on the street flee from under the  seat. 
The cover caption warns us, "BEWARE!  For today, the SCARECROW  Walks!"

Review by Bill Henley

From the Mighty Proto-Marvel Age of  Giant Monsters comes this epic issue,
published some ten months before FANTASTIC  FOUR #1 (and so, of course, before
the debut of the Human Torch, an FF spinoff  series, in STRANGE TALES).  If
you're wondering what is exceptional about  this issue, the truth is that I took
a notion to review one of these Marvel  pre-hero monster/fantasy comics, and
this is one of very few that I happen to  own.

The splash page of "The Scarecrow Walks!" is signed by (Jack) Kirby  and
(Dick) Ayers.  Threre's no writer credit, but to my understanding  virtually all
these monster stories were plotted by Stan Lee (no doubt with  input by Kirby)
and dialogued by Larry Lieber.  On the splash, the huge  scarecrow figure
stalks a man and woman; "Johnny, I'm frightened!  He's  moving closer!  He's
coming toward us!:"  "Hang on, Sue-- don't  panic!  If he sees we're afraid, he'll
surely destroy us!"  (No,  despite the names "Johnny" and "Sue,", this does
not appear to be a prequel or  prototype of the Torch and Invisible Girl in the

"You won't believe  this story!", the opening caption warns us.  "You will
say it's  IMPOSSIBLE!  And yet, how can you be sure?  In a universe of infinite 
space and endless time, how can you be sure that ANYTHING is impossible?"  
One Jarvis (again, no apparent relation to the Avengers' kindly butler), a 
banker in the true Snidely Whiplash tradition, is delighted to learn that the 
government wants to buy up a property on which he holds the mortgage in order to
use it for a nuclear test.  While some property owners might see NIMBY 
issues in this, Jarvis' only thought is for the money he can make, and he  hurries
to the Smith farm to foreclose the mortgage and evict poor farmers  Albert
and Martha Smith.  The Smiths, who have been paying Jarvis what they  can
despite being unable to make a decent crop out of the hardscrabble farm, beg  Jarvis
to let them keep it so that they can share in the profit from the  government
sale.  "Don't be a fool!  To me you're just in the way and  I don't care what
happens to you!  Now start packing!"  As the  elderly, destitute Smiths
trudge away, Martha's chief concern seems to be for a  figure hanging in the barren
field; "What about our scarecrow?  He's been  with us for years!'s
like leaving an old FRIEND!"  "I know,  Martha!  But we no longer have NEED for
it!  We'll never have money to  buy another farm!!  Our friend will be better
off HERE!"  That's  debatable, for as Jarvs counts his money, "the wheels of
military  experimentation move fast, and soon once more the breakup of atomic
particles,  the creation of inconceivable heat and the monstrous explosion of
another  nuclear test!"  Now you'd think that in the face of such heat and
blast, a  mere straw-stuffed figure would last less than a microsecond before
being  obliterated.  But somehow, perhaps due to the presence of "a new element, 
far more POWERFUL than deadly gamma-rays" (does Bruce Banner know about
this?)  instead of vanishing in a puff of flame, the forlorn scarecrow begins to
grow in  size, and then to move.  "I can... think...can speak....I am ALIVE!"  
Ultimately, the Scarecrow finds itself to be "the MIGHTIEST of all living 
creatures!"  And then, the creature makes an "ominous vow".  "Nothing  on Earth
can stop me!  I shall do what I must....and woe unto any who stand  in my way!"

Stalking across the countryside, the Scarecrow is seen by a  farmboy who
calls to his parents about "a GIANT in the field" and gets the  response, "Any
more wild stories from you and we'll take away your  comics!"  The Scarecrow
encounters Johnny and Sue of the splash page scene,  but lumbers on past them
unnoticing; "He left us alone!  He must be after  something BIGGER-- more
IMPORTANT!"  At last, the Scarecrow reaches the  town he seeks, and stalks it streets
sending the inhabitants into panic while  looking for one particular resident.
"I shall yet find the one I  seek!  He shall not escape me! By the power
that gave me life, THIS I  VOW!"  And his vow is fulfilled, as he spots one
particular man through the  window of a business office; "So!  I have FOUND you,
JARVIS  CRAGSTONE!"  Yes, it is the cruel banker the Scarecrow seeks, and to get
at  him the straw monster pulls down the entire building (let us hope that
Jarvis  was counting his ill-gotten gains all alone that day).  Leaping to the 
ground through a window of the collapsing building, the surprisingly agile 
banker reaches the ground and tries to flee in his car, but the Scarecrow 
squashes the vehicle with a stomp of its foot; "It is no use, mortal....for YOU, 
there shall be no escape!"  Next Jarvis tries to hide in an old-fashioned  well
but the Scarecrow reaches down to seize him.  "I have done you no  harm!  Why
do you torment me?"  "I attack you for your GREED, your  RUTHLESSNESS....for
the harm you have done Albert and Martha Smith!"  The  Scarecrow accuses
Jarvis of deliberately selling the Smiths worthless land and  then chiseling them
out of the profits from the government sale.  "Now I've  come for the profit
you made....for the money that rightfully belongs to Albert  and Martha Smith!" 
Desperately, Jarvis agrees to buy back his life by  turning over his entire
profit (which seems to be in cash rather than stocks,  bonds, or bank deposits,
as you might expect a banker to keep his wealth).   As Jarvis vows never to
cheat anyone again and the surrounding townspeople agree  never to tell anyone
what they have seen for fear of being thought mad, the  Scarecrow lumbers off,
muttering, "Must go....must search....time grows short...."   As
it searches for days, its size slowly  shrinks as the radiation that brought
it to life wears off.  It is hardly  bigger than it started when it finally
finds the object of its search, which is,  of course, the elderly couple Albert
and Martha Smith, reduced to living under a  crude lean-to in an open field. 
The Scarecrow leaves Jarvis' money for  them to find the next morning, so that
they can rejoice that they can now buy a  new farm and home.  As they set off
to do so, the Scarecrow follows after  them "with his last bit of life ebbing
away".  Once established in their  new farm, the Smiths are utterly puzzled
to find their old scarecrow hanging  inert in their new field.  "And, Albert,
see-- on his face, there's a  SMILE!"  "Yes, he looks almost as if he had been
ALIVE!  But that's  impossible!  And yet, maybe it isn't!  Maybe there are
more forces in  this world than we know....more than we will EVER know!"  So ends
what the  final caption tells us is "an incredible tale, a fantastic
tale....but one which  none can prove false!  And neither can YOU....NEITHER CAN  YOU!"

(Maybe I'm taking things too seriously again, but this last line  reminds me
of real-life arguments between believers in the "paranormal" and  skeptics. 
Often the believers try to confound the skeptics by pointing out  that though
no positive proof has been found of the existence of, say, Bigfoot,  the
skeptics have also not produced positive proof of Bigfoot's non-existence,  since
they have not been able to search every square foot of wilderness in North 
America and find no trace of the supposed hairy humanoid.  The fallacy here  is
that in traditional logic and debate, and in science,  the "burden of  proof" is
on the party making a positive claim, especially if that claim is of 
something supernatural or otherwise outside the normal realm of human  experience--
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."  The other side cannot,
and doesn't have to, provide positive proof of a  negative.  Maybe the
skeptics can't absolutely prove that Bigfoot doesn't  exist, but they aren't
obligated to accept the Bigfoot fans' claims or even take  them seriously, until  the
Bigfootites produce some sort of positive proof  of their claims.  The same
goes, I suppose, for giant animated irradiated  scarecrows.)

The second yarn in this issue is "A Giant There Was!", which  appears to be
drawn by Don Heck.  On the splash page, a man stands smugly  declaring that
"It's IMPOSSIBLE!  Nothing that LIVES can be enormous enough  to dwell in this
gigantic place!" while above him the huge hands of a giant  (flesh and blood in
this case, rather than straw) reach down to seize him.   Joe Farrow, a thug
from the big city, has sought out a small New England village  for his new venue
for crime because "small towns have less makes  stealing easy!" 
And the antique shop Farrow is casing looks like  particularly easy prey
because the owner is "a real STRANGE gink (who) never  even bothers to LOCK the
door!"  Sneaking into the shop after closing  hours, Farrow raids the owner's
"personal drawer where the most valuable items  would be kept".  Afterwards,
Parrow is satisfied with the loot from his  "perfect caper", except for three
simple beans marked "Beanstalk Beans".   He tosses them contemptously outside onto
the ground; "HAH!  With all the  VALUABLE stuff I stole, I sure won't have to
raise my own BEANS!"  "How  could Joe Farrow know that within those beans lay
nore energy, more growth  potential then anywhere else on Earth?"  But he gets
a clue when he awakens  the next morning to find that the beans have sprouted
into a gigantic beanstalk  reaching high into the sky.  Remembering the
legend of Jack and the  Beanstalk-- in which Jack found a treasure at the top of
the beanstalk-- Farrow  concludes this one may have its own treasure and hurries
to climb the stalk to  claim it.  Reaching the top at last, he finds that the
stalk reaches all  the way up into the clouds, but the clouds themselves are
solid and he can walk  on them in his quest for treasure.  He climbs a "small
hill" to get a  better view, but is startled when the "hill" moves to realize
that it is  actually a giant's foot.  Pursued by the giant through his
humungous home,  Farrow tries to escape but finds himself falling through an open win
dow.   In danger of falling all the way back to the ground, he grabs a hanging
rope and  is drawn upward, only to find himself a captive of the giant--
along with three  other crooks who confess that they were lured by their greed
into the strange  curio shop and now are the giant's slaves working day and
night.  And  looking upward at his giant captor's face, Farrow realizes that it is
the same  face as that of the curio shop owner.  Back on Earth, the shop
owners  leaves his door open "to wait patiently for the next criminal to pass 
through!  For the next unsuspecting enemy of society who did not suspect  that
there are stranger things in this Earth of ours than we dare DREAM  of!"

Next is "I Went Too Far Back!", which appears to be drawn by Paul  Reinman. 
The sory is set ten years in the future and takes place in a  science lab
whose custodians lock the door on the supreme invention of a  now-departed "great
scientis" named Farrington.  It is a time machine,  which the other scientists
have deemed too dangerous to be used because it might  enable someone to
change the past and "alter our entire present  civilization".  But hiding within
the locked lab is a rat-faced little man,  once Farrington's assistant (why do
comic book and horror movie scientists  usually make such poor choices of
assistants, I wonder?) who intends to go back  into the past for his own profit
"and I couldn't care less HOW much trouble it  might cause to the world today!" 
The man has a pistol, and he figures that  in any era before the invention of
his gun the possession of this amazing  killing machine will make him "the
nost feared man in the world, treated like a  king".  But when he makes his time
trip, he is chagrined to find that the  inhabitants of the past, wandering
around wearing white tunics, who appear to be  "too simple...too primitive!  No homes!  There's  nothing I'd even want to STEAL"  Nonetheless,
he tries to impress the  locals with wonders such as matches and a wristwatch,
only to find that they  show no interest and don't even speak to him. 
Frustrated, he fires his gun  in the air and then shoots directly at one of the
locals, intending to "wing"  him and demonstrate his deadly power.  But the bullet
bounces off an  invisible barrier.  And then another invsibile force picks
him up, shakes  him until he gun falls out of his pocket, and drags him to a
structure which  turns out to be a courthouse.  Here, the judges finally speak to
him and  explain that the other inhabitants need no speech, nor do they need
elaborate  machines and possessions, because they have telepathy and mighty
mental powers  that meet all their needs.  But how can people of the primitive
past have  powers dwarfing those of advanced 20th century residents, our
villain  pleads.  "We're not your PAST-- we're your FUTURE!  This is the year  3005!
TIME IS LIKE A CIRCLE!  If you go TOO FAR in the direction of  the PAST, it
will bring you around to the FUTURE!"  And so, as he faces  life in a cage as
a zoo exhibit of "20th Century Man", he reflects that "at  least the people of
the 20th century won't have to worry-- I'll never be able to  change any
history NOW!" 

Finally, as typical for these Silver Age  Marvel pre-hero monster books, the
issue which began with a monster tale drawn  by Jack Kirby ends with a yarn
drawn and signed by proto-Marvel's other star  artist, Steve Ditko.  This one is
"The THING in the Cell!"  The splash  is simply a view of a huge, hulking
gray-black figure (no, not Ben Grimm) seen  though prison bars.  "The main road
to many of the European tourist  centers" contains a small town named Bork
which is, almost literally, a tourist  trap.  Any stranger driving through is
stopped by burly police chief Hans  Vogez (also the local mayor, , postmaster and
judge) , who demands ten dollars  (doesn't sound that bad, but then this was
before inflation) or else ten days in  jail for violating one trumped-up law or
another.  One couple is charged  ten bucks for driving through town without
headlights in the daytime (actually,  I think some states actually now have
laws demanding cars drive with headlights  day and night, on the premise it makes
cars more visible to other drivers) while  another is gigged for driving
through with the radio on (now I might actually go  for a law like that,
especially if there were an extra fine for playing rap  music at high volume with
four-letter lyrics).  Each fine is collected and  kept by Vogez personally, and at
last he collects enough to finance his life's  ambition-- the building of "the
finest prison on the continent-- and it's MINE  to run!  It will be a monumnt
to my importance-- my power!"  The  inhabitants of Bork are not pleased with
their one-man government's use of  public funds-- "The BIGGEST crime is
wasting money on such an unnecessary  building!"-- but Vogez cares nothing for their
opinions.  Eager for his  prison's first involuntary guest, he arrests a
strange, hollow-eyed man for the  crime of walking the wrong way on a sidewalk. 
The man claims to have no  money for a fine and is locked up for vagrancy and
resisting arrest, despite his  dire warnings that "They're COMING for me!  They
will not depart WITHOUT  me!"  "Then THEY can pay your fine-- whoever THEY
are!"  That night,  as the moon rises over the prison tower, "they" indeed
arrive-- hulking dead  white-skinned brutes.  And what they want is to take their
leader with  them, for he too, in his true form, is such a creature.  But since
their  leader is locked up in a cell, "There can be only ONE answer!  IT MUST
BE  DONE!"  The next morning, jailer Bork awakens eager to greet the new day 
and his first prisoner-- only to find that not only is his prisoner gone but
the  entire prison is gone along with him, leaving only the bare foundations! 
This loss of public property is too much for higher authority in Bork, and
the  once proud jailer is at last stripped of all his public offices and
reduced to  menial jobs such as gathering branches for firewood.  Meanwhile, Bork 
becomes a prosperous tourist center, attractng visitors not only by the absence
of its greedy cop but by the mystery of the vanished building.  And making 
his dreary rounds, Hans Vogez can only reflect that he was too arrogant to 
realize that the "they" he disdained might have been not mere humans, but 
creatures from "out there", and that "they must have been unable to open his  cell,
so they did the next best thing-- they took the entire building!"   And now,
"I have been justly punished for my greed and pride-- by someone who  even NOW
may be watching-- watching and  waiting!"