Wednesday, July 1, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1963--Part 1


The Watcher—last seen on the moon back in FF #13, pays a visit to Earth. A menace so powerful it threatens even the Watcher’s race has popped up, forcing him to act. Well—it forces him to get the FF to act, at least, even if all he still does is observe.

The menace is the Molecule Man, a lowly technician given an awesome superpower in a lab accident. Now he can transmute matter at a molecular level, pretty much allowing him to turn anything (including air molecules) into anything else.

The Molecule Man soon tussles with the FF and manages to force them to retreat. Encasing Manhattan in glass, he threatens the populace into helping hunt down the heroes.

But the FF gets unexpected help from the Yancy Street Gang. The Yancy Streeters have been an occasional running gag for a number of issues, sending hate mail and mean-spirited practical jokes to Ben. But, since they don’t like the fact of anyone else picking on Ben, they help smuggle the Fantastic Four to Alicia’s apartment.

The one Yancy Streeter we see has his face in shadows, so we never see what he looks like. This will become the traditional way of portraying the gang members in their occasional future appearances.

Anyway, once Reed has time to think, he realizes the Molecule Man can’t affect organic matter and uses this fact to come up with a plan to defeat him. The Watcher pops up again to take the villain into custody.

It’s a good issue, though not quite on the same level of imagination as the Red Ghost or Rama Tut stories. Still, it’s nice to see the Watcher again and Jack Kirby is obviously having fun drawing out the bizarre initial battle between the FF and the bad guy.

There’s one odd bit at the beginning of the story---taking place before the Watcher pops up to get things going. Reed is studying a meteor and finds something that resembles a “dehydrated acorn” inside it. “This proves that some form of life MUST exist in outer space,” he exclaims eagerly.

Gee whiz, Reed—doesn’t meeting the Watcher, the Skrulls, the Impossible Man and the citizens of Planet X (not to mention the countless other alien races that keep invading us) already kinda sorta prove that?

There are moments when I really worry about Reed.


Spidey continues to add members to his Rogue’s Gallery at a fast and furious rate. This time around, it’s the first appearance of the Lizard.

One-armed scientist Curt Connors studies lizards in an attempt to find a way for humans to regenerate limbs. The formula he comes up with does re-grow his missing arm—but also turns him into the hideous and violent Lizard.

It’s yet another visually cool villain with a strong back-story. The setting is a change-of-pace as well—Spidey and the Lizard fight their final battle in and around an old Spanish fort in the Everglades.

We get a nice reminder that Peter is smart as well as super-powered when he manages to come up with an antidote to turn the Lizard back into Dr. Connors. We also get some fun stuff involving Peter’s as-yet still theoretical love life. He gets interrupted before he can ask Betty Brant on a date. Later in the story, he gives Liz Allen a call. But Liz, recently saved from thieves by Spider Man, tells Peter she’s waiting for the webslinger to give her a call and won’t go out with anyone else. Peter turns out to be his own competition. Finally, there’s a few good gags involving the growing feud between Jameson and Spider Man.

All in all, yet another strong issue.


The Human Torch story at first seems to feature the return of Captain America—one of Marvel’s World War II era heroes—to modern continuity. It turns out to be a trick, though. The villainous Acrobat (who fought Johnny eight issues earlier) has impersonated Cap in order to pull off a bank robbery. Johnny manages to put the kibosh on him once again, though.

It’s a pretty good story. Jack Kirby (who co-created Cap in 1941) returns to the title for this issue to do the art and the final panel includes an outright admission that the story was a test. Jack and Stan were trying to get a feel on whether their readers wanted to see Cap return for real.

And, of course, Cap would be returning soon—getting thawed out of a block of ice by the Avengers a few months down the line. It’s such a narrow time frame, I think it likely that Stan and Jack had already pretty much decided to bring Captain America back. And it would prove to be a wise decision.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange is lured into a trap by Baron Mordo, but manages to telepathically summon help from a young lady named Victoria Bentley. He gets free of the trap and manages to force Mordo to retreat.

The impression left by all this is that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko might have been planning on using Victoria as a regular supporting character and possible love interest. But, though she does pop up again from time to time through the years, Stan and Steve seem to have rather quickly lost interest in her.

This is perhaps just as well. This particular story is a bit slow-paced and not as visually interesting as other stories in the series have been. Soon, Dr. Strange will be regularly engaging in combat with strange beings on extra-dimensional battlegrounds—making for some of the most visually impressive stories Marvel ever produced. Poor Victoria probably would have just been in the way.

Next time, we’ll look in on Thor, Iron Man and Ant Man.

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