Wednesday, May 13, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1963, part 2


A mad scientist uses a duplicating ray to create an evil Thor—and for good measure duplicates evil Thor’s hammer to give him an extra weapon. The two Thors fight, with the villain helping out evil Thor by judicious use of the duplicating ray (such as duplicating a nearby office building so that Thor slams into it in mid-flight).

Joe Sinnott is the artist this time and he does make the image of evil Thor, whirling a hammer in either hand, look pretty darn cool. And the duplicating ray being used as a weapon is a nice touch.

The whole story reminds me of Bizarro—the Superman villain created by an imperfect duplicating ray. It’s not the first time that elements in Thor have reminded me of DC’s most powerful hero. It’s just an indication that Thor has not yet found his own unique “voice.” He’ll get there before long, though. We’re only two issues away from the first of Jack Kirby’s excellent “Tales of Asgard” back-up feature, which will be a driving force towards guiding Thor’s adventures along a much more distinctive route.


We meet Dr. Strange’s arch-enemy Baron Mordo, learning pretty much right away that both Mordo and Strange were students of the Ancient One. But while Dr. Strange was apparently the teacher’s pet, Mordo is planning on knocking the old guy off.

This leads to a battle between Mordo and Strange while both are in their ectoplasmic forms. It’s the sort of bizarre situation with which Steve Ditko’s art matches perfectly. It’s a short and economically told story that is a visual delight.

Meanwhile, the Human Torch battles the Asbestos Man—actually an embittered scientist who wears a fireproof costume. This story sets itself up with a nice little plot twist: The scientist wants to use his inventive genius as a criminal, but realizes he needs the help of experienced crooks after he inadvertently trips a burglar alarm during his first attempt at theft.

But he can’t any crooks to pay attention to him (“…er…I am looking for a member of the underworld to take into partnership…” “What’s with this guy? Some kind of NUT? Get lost, chum.”)

So he invents the fireproof suit and publicly defeats the Human Torch to give himself some street cred. It’s really not a bad plan when you think about it.

Or maybe it’s not such a good plan, after all. In a re-match, Johnny cleans his clock by using his flames on objects around the Asbestos Man rather than aimed directly at him. (Melting the floor from underneath him, for instance.)

It all adds up to a reasonably clever and entertaining yarn.

That’s it for August 1963. Dr. Strange will take a rest for a few months before popping up again. But Spider Man will be back, adding yet another important villain to his Rogues Gallery and giving us yet another superbly choreographed fight scene. The Fantastic Four will battle the Super Skrull for the first time; Thor will take on Merlin the Magician; Iron Man fights a silly villain but gains a couple of important supporting cast members; the Human Torch fights the Living Bomb; while Ant Man & the Wasp take on Trago and his… um… Magic Trumpet?

But most importantly, September 1963 will see the founding of the Avengers (with the return of the Hulk to the Marvel Universe after a 6 month absence) AND we’ll meet a certain group of young mutants for the first time.

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