Wednesday, February 25, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1963, part 2


A ruthless warlord from the planet Xarta is the latest alien to attempt to conquer Earth (the second attempt at an alien takeover this month). These guys are (like the Skrulls) shape changers. Their plan is to secret replace government leaders in order to sow confusion, then have their armada attack.

It’s a pretty good plan, but Thor catches on and ends up fighting a duel with the warlord’s son, then the warlord himself. It’s an enjoyable fight, with Thor using a neat tactic at one point to counter an invisibility trick pulled by his opponent. In the end, Thor tosses the warlord back into space, convincing the armada to beat a hasty retreat.

It’s a good story, presenting Thor with the sort of powerful threat he needs in order to present a challenge. I think the creative staff on Thor (Al Hartley does the art for this issue, with Stan Lee still providing the plots) must have realized this themselves by this point—we’ll be seeing very few mundane gangsters from now on. In fact, Loki returns again next issue and we’ll start seeing more of Asgard. It’s a slow process, but Thor will eventually be one of the coolest and most imaginative books Marvel produces during the 1960s.


An acrobat named Carl Zante shows up at the Storm house in Glenville to see the Human Torch.

BUT WAIT!!! I thought Johnny had a secret identity in Glenville, despite NOT having a secret identity anywhere else in the world. Johnny can’t figure out how Zante found him.

Well, it turns out that everyone in Glenville knows Johnny is the Human Torch—they were just polite enough not to mention it since Johnny seemed to be so determined to keep it a “secret.” Everyone in Glenville isn’t dumb—they’re just really well-mannered. It’s Johnny who seems to be a few flames short of a blazing bonfire.

Gee whiz, that might be the single lamest moment in the history of comic books. But the whole “secret identity” thing was a big, annoying continuity glitch to start with and I suppose that was the best explanation Stan Lee and writer Larry Lieber could come up with.

Anyway, back to the story. Zanti plays on Johnny’s ego to get him to quit the Fantastic Four and join up with him to form the crime-fighting “Torrid Twosome.” But it’s all a trick to get Johnny to melt open a bank vault so Zanti could rob the place.

Johnny gets shot as well—this just isn’t his day. But with the help of the rest of the Fantastic Four, he manages to catch Zanti.

This is actually a good story once we get past that painful secret identity moment. Dick Ayers takes over from Kirby as the artist starting in this issue and does a fine job with the action. Actually, Zanti (whose whole schtick is basic arcrobatic tricks) probably lasts longer in his fight with Johnny than he really should, but the running battle is an entertaining one regardless.

And however awkwardly it was done, I am really glad that they finally gave up on trying to claim the Human Torch has a secret identity.

Next week, we’ll see Spider Man try to join the Fantastic Four, while off in Vietnam, inventor Tony Stark will take a piece of shrapnel in his chest. Gee, I wonder what that will lead to?


  1. Commenting on JIM #90, which was a fun old-fashioned, standard-issue early Marvel yarn. It could have been a Human Torch tale with just a few cosmetic tweaks. I enjoy these primitive, kinda silly THOR stories in addition to the later ones done on a mythic scale.

    I'm surprised you didn't note this issue's artist Al Hartley went on to create and illustrate Spire Comics and is a giant in Christian comics history. That being said, his take on Thor was a quirky one. I never anywhere else saw Don Blake drawn so withered and weak,

    I enjoy little things in this story, like Odin appearing to warn Blake against revealing his identity (Yikes--Odin can read Blake's mind?) or when the love-sick, self-loathing Blake berates himself, "Am I man or a mouse?!" and bangs his stick on the ground and becomes Thor.

    The conclusion where the defeated Xartans turn themselves into trees (losing the cognitive ability to revert to normal)was a shameless swipe from FANTASTIC FOUR #2, but it worked. Fun stuff all 'round. -- Gary in Omaha

  2. I'm embarrassed to admit that Al Hartley's contributions to Christian comics didn't even occur to me when I wrote this post. I was too busy focusing on the Norse gods to worry about the real God. (I'll probably get made fun about that in Heaven now.)


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