Wednesday, November 19, 2008

History of the Marvel Universe--August 1962


After recent invasion attempts by the Skrulls and the Toad Men are both beaten off, the Rock Men from Saturn take their turn in the latest attempt to conquer all us puny Earthlings. This time, it’s up to the Mighty Thor to save the day.

Taken for what it is, this is a fast, entertaining story. Dr. Donald Blake, who needs a cane to help him walk, is vacationing in Norway when he sees the Rock Men. Hiding from the aliens in a cave, he finds a stout stick about the size of a walking cane. He soon discovers that when he smacks the stick on the ground, it transforms him into Thor, while the stick itself becomes his hammer. He then does battle with the aliens (including a one-on-one tussle with their robotic “mechano-monster”) and chases them away from Earth.

It’s good, silly fun and many of the early Thor stories would be in the same vein. As the character evolves (we only gradually discover that he really is Thor, with several years passing before we get an explanation for his double identity), Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would add other denizens of Norwegian myth to the cast. The stories would become more cosmic-level in terms of both plots and visuals, while Thor (and all the other deities of the Marvel Universe) would develop their faux-Elizabethan speech patterns. Wait three or four years, and The Mighty Thor will be dripping with imagination and powerful storytelling.

But in the meantime, it’ll mostly stick to good, silly fun, thematically similar in some ways to the Superman stories of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Thor will take awhile to find his thematic “voice,” but he’ll entertain us in the meantime all the same.


Stan Lee opted to use artist Steve Ditko instead of Kirby as they gave a new character a trial run in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.

It was a wise choice—Ditko’s unique style would prove perfect for what would become Marvel’s most successful character—Spider Man.

It’s a great origin. Peter Parker, wimpy high school student, is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains his amazing powers. At first, he uses his powers for personal gain by going into show business. Helping others doesn’t occur to him—he’s always been picked on by bullies so the heck with everyone else.

Of course, this all leads up to the death of Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben, killed by a burglar that Peter hadn’t bothered to help catch a few panels earlier. This leads up to one of the single best sentences that Stan Lee ever wrote—“With great power comes great responsibility.”

It’s an auspicious start for the web-slinger. It’ll be seven months before Spider Man pops up again, this time in his own book. But unlike Thor, he’ll find his thematic “voice” right from the start—a flawed but decent young hero who has to not only fight bad guys, but also deal with real life issues such as paying the rent and getting his homework done. This, along with a great rogue’s gallery of villains, will make Spider Man a success both artistically and commercially.

That’s it for August 1962. September will be a busy month. Thor will have another adventure; the FF will deal with the first super-villain team-up of the Modern era; Hank Pym will give his shrinking formula another try; and the Hulk will…. join the circus?

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite pieces of faux Elizabethian dialouge is when Hercules is fighting Thor. While throwing a car, he says: "'Tis not a car, 'Tis a Volkswagon." As if that made a difference.


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