Wednesday, January 7, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe--December 1962, part 1

Fantastic Four #9

Well, it seems that economic hard times are hitting everyone—even the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards has unwisely invested the money he makes on patents and inventions in the stock market and now they’re all broke, forced to sell their skyscraper headquarters and all their equipment.

Fortunately, they soon get an offer to come to Hollywood and make a movie for (cue Dr. Evil voice) ONE MILLION DOLLARS. In a hilarious panel, the four hitchhike out to Hollywood.

Of course, the movie thing turns out to be a plot of the Submariner, who leads the three male FF members into different traps so he can get a chance to propose to Sue. But the FF manages to get the best of him. Defeated, Namor honors his agreement to finance the movie (using a fortune in sunken treasure to do so). The film is, of course, a huge hit and the Fantastic Four regains their financial footing.

Some of the story elements are undeniably dated and silly, but it’s still a good issue. Stan Lee’s efforts to inject real-world problems into the lives of his heroes makes for some effective bits of character development, as the group decides to stick together despite their troubles. And it’s fun to see Reed—so smart at the science stuff—screw up financially.

In terms of the action stuff, a sequence in which Reed has to fight a giant Cyclops is yet another classic Kirby fight scene—full of imaginative and entertaining visuals.

We also see Ben’s relationship with Alicia continuing to humanize him. Sue gets a little annoying when she reminds us that she’s still torn between Reed and Namor. (“He—He’s so masterful. So confident!”), but she’ll get over that eventually, so we’ll forgive her.

Tales to Astonish #38

The local mob, going broke because of Ant Man’s activities, hire a discredited scientist known as Egghead to destroy the hero. Egghead’s plan is to figure out how to himself talk to ants and get them to betray their “master.”

But the ants prove to be loyal-- Ant Man avoids a trap and helps capture a squad of mob hitmen. Egghead gets away, but ends up living in a flophouse muttering about how ants had outsmarted him.

It’s another average issue—good but not exceptional. Egghead, though, will return before long. He’ll pretty much be the closest thing to an archenemy Hank Pym will have. This highlights a problem with the series that I’ve mentioned before. To a large extent, a hero is only as good as his villains. While the FF gets to fight Dr. Doom, Namor and other cool villains, Ant Man is pitted against a pudgy mad scientist with a dumb plan and hordes of Red Shirt mobsters and spies.

Still, he’s only five issues away from getting a cute partner and less than a year away from joining the Avengers, so things will look up for Mr. Pym eventually.

Next time, we’ll finish December 1962 with a look at what Thor and the Human Torch are doing with their free time.

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