Wednesday, January 21, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1963, part 1

Fantastic Four #10

When last we saw Dr. Doom, he was clutching a small asteroid which was hurling its way into deep space.

But now we learn that he was rescued by an alien space ship and has now made his way back to Earth. This sets up a really, really cool issue.

Doom actually makes use of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (who, even within the Marvel Universe, publish the FF comic book) to lure Reed Richards into a trap. Then he switches bodies with Reed.

Reed—now in Doom’s body—desperately tries to convince his teammates of his real identity, while Doom---now in Reed’s body---subtly lures the others into a trap. It’s a strongly written issue with some more great bits of characterizations for just about everyone (even Alicia Masters) and it all leads up a tense conclusion. In the end, of course, the two arch enemies are switched back into their own bodies and Doom is reduced to apparent nothingness by a reducing ray that he had planned to use on Sue, Ben and Johnnie.

A well-written and entertaining issue. By now, it’s apparent that Lee and Kirby have a firm lock on the characters and themes needed to make the book work dramatically.

Hulk #5

This one contains two separate short stories. In the first, the Hulk and Rick Jones rescue Betty Ross from the clutches of an immortal tyrant who lives in an underground kingdom. In the next, the big guy and Rick travel to Asia to stop the conquering army of an evil warlord.

Both are okay stories, but they are still thematically awkward. By now, we’ve reached a point where Bruce Banner uses a ray machine he built to turn into the Hulk whenever he needs to do so. There’s an attempt to introduce some pathos into the character by telling us there’s always a chance he won’t be able to change back into Bruce afterwards, but giving him that much control over his transformations just isn’t what the Hulk is supposed to be about. Lee and Kirby might have a lock on what works for the Fantastic Four, but the Hulk isn’t quite where he needs to be yet.

Next time, we’ll finish off January 1963 with a look at what Thor, Ant Man and the Human Torch are up to.

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