Wednesday, April 1, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1963, part 2


Loki is up to his old tricks again, managing to magically draw Thor’s hammer up to Asgard as part of a plan to lure the Thunder God into a trap. Thor has to fight living trees and a big dragon-like beastie, fashioning replacement hammers out of wood and stone while he does so. Eventually, he gets the best of his evil half-brother.

No one has ever matched Jack Kirby at his prime as an artist on Thor, but Joe Sinnott does a fine job this issue (as he did last issue) giving us imaginative visuals. The pacing of the story is a bit off—there’s a few too many pages of Thor dealing with mundane crooks and providing special effects for a movie (in exchange for a donation to charity) before the real action gets started. But the fun parts still manage to outweigh the story’s faults.


The main plot of the story here is a mad scientist named Dr. Strange attempting world-wide nuclear blackmail, while remaining protected by a force field on his private island. Iron Man puts a stop to this, of course, but not before Dr. Strange’s estranged daughter saves him by tossing him a couple of flashlight batteries (with which to recharge his armor) at a key moment. Dr. Strange manages to escape, but I don’t believe he ever reappears. His name, after all, will be co-opted by a good guy in just two months.

It’s an okay story, but what’s most interesting about this issue is that the first five pages (over a third of the story) is pretty much just a review of who Tony Stark/Iron Man is. I’m assuming that Stan Lee was worried that new or infrequent readers of Tales of Suspense would not yet know who Iron Man was. Understandable, as this was only his third appearance in what is still an anthology book.

Of course, that means the story as a whole plods along a little too slowly. But as Iron Man proves to be commercially successful, the need to explain who he is every single issue will fade away. Iron Man won’t get really good for a few more issues, when he finally gets some regular supporting characters and his armor is re-designed into something more visually interesting. But he’s getting there.


A forger and counterfeiter named Wilhelm Van Vile (that’s a great name) stumbles across some magic paint left behind on Earth by aliens. Anything he paints—no matter how bizarre--will become real and be under his telepathic control.

Van Vile doesn’t like the Human Torch, who once sent him to prison. So he uses painted monsters, dangerous landscapes, traps and even a painted evil Fantastic Four to try to do in Johnny. But Johnny gets a chance to use some of the paint himself, turning the tables on Van Vile.

This isn’t as fun as last month’s battle against Namor, but Jack Kirby’s back doing the art work and manages to make everything look pretty cool. And, as I said, Wilhelm Van Vile is a great name for a villain.

It’s also worth mentioning that this month saw the premiere of Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, Lee and Kirby’s Second World War-themed adventure comic. Since Nick Fury would soon be playing a key part in the contemporary Marvel Universe, we should take note of his first appearance.

That’s it for May 1963. Next month, both Iron Man and Thor run up against super-powered Commies; the Fantastic Four adds yet villain to their Rogue’s Gallery; Ant Man gets a cute new partner; and Johnny Storm literally opens up Pandora’s Box.

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