Wednesday, May 27, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1963, part 2


The tomb of Merlin the Magician is found by archeologists. Inside this is Merlin’s perfectly preserved body—it turns out he’s been in suspended animation for a thousand years.

Once awakened, he goes on a sort of magical rampage, intending to demonstrate that he should be the power behind the “throne,” just as he was in Camelot. He ends up in Washington, but fails to recognize JFK as the president (“He looks too young! I’ll have to search further till I find the president!”)

When Thor confronts the magician, Merlin starts tossing national monuments at him. He also brings the Lincoln memorial to life to stomp the Thunder God. But Thor eventually convinces Merlin that he (Merlin, that is) has no chance of winning. The magician agrees to return to his tomb and another thousand years of suspended animation.

The endings a bit of a dues ex machina, but the monument-tossing batting in D.C. is undeniably fun. There is one odd touch—Merlin claims his powers aren’t magic, but the result of him being a mutant. Of course, since his power is the ability to pretty much do anything he can think of, this is a moot point. This certainly doesn’t effect the story in any way.

I’m not sure why Stan Lee (who plotted this story) and/or Robert Bernstein (who wrote the script) were so shy about the villain using actually magic, but there you are.


Stan Lee and Steve Ditko continue to hit home runs with Spidey. There’s a great bit right from the start when Spider Man stops a trio of crooks from breaking into a store. Unfortunately, he stops them before they actually do anything illegal, which means the cop on the beat has to let them go.

Soon after this, our put-upon hero encounters the Sandman for the first time. When Peter’s mask rips during their first fight, he runs from the battle in a near-panic that his real identity will become public and Aunt May will be shamed and endangered.

But the two antagonists soon have a re-match-- a six-page running fight through Peter Parker’ high-school when Spidey and Sandy finally have it out. It’s one of my favorite all-time comic book fight scenes; fun and fast-moving while still completely logical in how the action unfolds. Steve Ditko is one of the few artists capable of giving Jack Kirby a run for his money in how to skillfully choreograph a super-powered fight.

Anyway, Spidey wins the fight with the inspired tactic of sucking up Sandman with a vacuum cleaner. In the meantime, the issue is peppered with great character moments. We get more of J. Jonah Jameson’s intense dislike of Spider Man. Peter blows a chance to get a date with fellow student Liz Allen because of his responsibilities as a superhero. Later, when he nearly loses his temper with school bully Flash Thompson, he has to back away rather than risk hurting Flash. This makes him look like a coward in the eyes of his classmates. Nothing is ever easy for poor Peter Parker. But the heart of the series is his determination to do the right thing regardless.


Johnny gets his own “J. Jonah Jameson” in the form of a TV commentator who accuses the Human Torch of being a glory-hound that generates disrespect for the police. But when a low-level super villain named the Eel inadvertently steals a miniature atomic bomb, Johnny steps up to save the town of Glenville. The TV commentator is ready to pretty much join the Human Torch fan club after that.

The story does a reasonable job of building suspense as Johnny searches for the bomb. The rest of the FF have cameos, giving us some nice banter between Johnny and Ben.

The tale’s one flaw may be that it amps Johnny’s powers up quite a bit at the end so that he can save the day. When the bomb goes off, Johnny saves Glenville by ABSORBING ALL THE ENERGY OF THE ATOMIC BLAST. Of course, the effort nearly kills him, but that still seems a little beyond what the Torch should be capable of.

Next week, we’ll finish September off with a look at the formation of not one—but TWO—new superhero groups.

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