Wednesday, July 15, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1963, part 3


We start the issue with the Avengers holding a meeting to get to know each other better. What they quickly find out is that Thor and Hulk pretty much constantly get on each other’s nerves. Nobody else is completely happy with the ill-tempered Hulk either—thus nicely foreshadowing what is about to come.

The Space Phantom—an advance scout for yet another race of aliens bent on world conquest—arrives on Earth to destroy the Avengers as a precursor to full-scale invasion.

The Phantom has a nifty power: He can assume the shape (and powers, if any) of any other person. When he does so, that person is transported to into “Limbo” to drift helplessly there until the Phantom assumes another shape.

He quickly replaces the Hulk and starts a fight with the other Avengers, then goes on a rampage and destroys a new Stark Industries weapon being tested by the Army.

This leads to a really fun, fast-moving battle in which the Phantom switches between Avengers, duplicating each of them in turn to keep them confused and off balance. But when Thor enters the battle, the Phantom (currently in Iron Man form) is nearly overpowered. He tries to duplicate Thor, but it turns out his power doesn’t work against an actual god. He himself is thrown into Limbo.

So the fight is over and the good guys win. But it’s not over yet. The Hulk is in a snit that everyone else was so quick to presume he had turned evil when the Phantom first replaced him. He quits and jumps away, leaving the others to wonder what will happen now that the Avengers can’t keep him in check. We’ll find out about that in the next issue.

This is strong story, giving us yet another example of Jack Kirby’s excellent fight choreography. The character interactions are handled well and lead to logical, believable consequences.

One minor but interesting detail—unless I missed an earlier reference, this issue of the Avengers marks the first time that Iron Man is referred to as actually being on Tony Stark’s payroll. In earlier issues of Tales of Suspense, he is merely identified as a friend of Stark’s. It seems that Tony is finally starting to get the hang of this secret identity business.

X-Men #2

Well, judging from the number of pretty girls who are mobbing Angel at the beginning of this issue, it seems that the X-Men have become fairly well-known since their premiere adventure last issue. Well-known and publicly admired as well—there’s as yet none of the public anti-mutant sentiment that will eventually become one of the driving forces of the book.

In fact, Professor X even has a regular contact in the government—FBI Agent Duncan, who wears a psionic headband that allows him to make mental contact with the Professor at regular intervals.

All this is background information, though. The meat of this issue involves another evil mutant. The Vanisher has the ability to teleport anywhere he wants with the speed of thought, making him a very effective thief. After robbing a bank, he recruits a mob and announces his intention to steal a copy of the military’s continental defense plans.

The X-Men attempt to guard the plans, but the Vanisher’s teleporting ability keeps him always one step away from them. Only then does Professor X step in, using his mental powers to wipe away the Vanisher’s memory, making him helpless as a baby.

The story is full of good action stuff, including a Danger Room training sequence and X-Men’s initial running battle with the Vanisher, in which everyone is basically playing keepaway with the briefcase containing the defense plans.

There’s some nice character moments, too. The youthful X-Men take to bickering among themselves after they first fail to stop the Vanisher and it’s both here and on several other occasions that Professor X has to take the role of strict disciplinarian. The teacher/student dichotomy is a good one, giving the X-Men their own personality distinct from the FF or the Avengers.

That’s it for November 1963. In December, the Fantastic Four will encounter a new villain and Reed will meet an old friend from World War II. The Human Torch will be matched up against a member of Spider Man’s Rogue’s Gallery, while Spidey has a rematch against yet another old villain. Thor meets a particularly ugly bad guy; Giant Man has some trouble adjusting to his new powers; Iron Man FINALLY redesigns his armor; and we get a peak at the origin of Dr. Strange.

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