Wednesday, September 2, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1964, part 2


Thor is in a foul mood, stomping through the streets of New York and snarling at passersby that he’s “lost interest in your petty, puny lives!”

His mood, of course, is due to Odin having once again forbidden him to marry Jane Foster. Odin, in turn, is fed up with Thor’s moping about like a love-struck teenager. Egged on by Loki, Odin reduces Thor’s power level by half.

Once this is done, Loki arranges for Zarrko—the mad scientist from the 23rd Century—to travel back in time and attack the city. Zarrko brings a giant robot along with him—a robot that the weakened Thor is not able to defeat. To save New York City, he agrees to return to the future with Zarrko and help the madman conquer that era.

This ticks off Odin even more—he sees “My son [give up] to a mortal!” via Loki’s thought projection, but doesn’t realize Thor did so to save others.

Why the supposedly all-wise Odin keeps taking advice from Loki—the self-acknowledged god of evil—is anyone’s guess. But if you forgive this aspect of the story, it is otherwise reasonably entertaining.

There’s an Avengers cameo as well, when they show up near the beginning of the story to find out why Thor is acting so moody. Oddly, they’re no where to be seen later on when the freakin’ big robot is devastating New York City. Go figure.

I really shouldn’t make fun of that aspect of the story, though. Over in the DC Universe, most of the major heroes are all scattered about in different fictional cities (Metropolis, Gotham City, Central City, etc.), so it’s reasonable to expect them to be working alone in many of their cases.

In the Marvel Universe, though, most of the heroes congregate in New York City. Thus, when a giant robot attacks the city, you’d pretty much expect all of them to show up.

But this aspect of the Universe is usually ignored, because we simply don’t want 90% of the stories turning into Avengers/FF team-ups. So, instead, Thor battles the giant robot alone and no one else happens to show up. Just as Spider Man is fighting Electro alone—or Giant Man and the Wasp taking on the Black Knight without any more help. It’s a situation that eschews straight “realism” to provide us with solo adventure stories for these heroes. Continuity within the Marvel Universe is a big part of the reason it used to be such a fun place to visit, but there are times when continuity issues should be set aside for the sake of good storytelling.

And now back to our regularly scheduled issue:

Once again, the Tales of Asgard back-up story stands out from the regular story. In this one, a young Thor defends a secret entry into Asgard against a band of monstrous invaders. Jack Kirby’s art work continues to shine—the monsters are all great designs, the action flows along in a fast and exciting pace, and a panel in which Thor is being turned into a tree (we see him maybe two-thirds of the way through the transformation) is as creepy as can be.


This month, we’re getting a nice mix of old villains popping up with the first appearances of new villains. The FF had a rematch against Dr. Doom, while Dr. Strange, Thor and the Human Torch also encountered bad guys they had fought before.

In the meantime, Spider Man was facing off against Electro for the first time, while Iron Man would meet the Mandarin.

The Mandarin is straight from the Fu Manchu mold—an oriental mad scientist with dreams of conquering the world. He lives in a remote castle in Red China, where he’s considered to be so powerful even the Red government leaves him alone. He’s got a fun villain-shtick as well—he wears a ring on each finger, each of which is actually a different powerful weapon. (Paralyzing ray, heat beam, disintegrator ray, etc.)

The U.S. military know little about him, so they ask Iron Man to scout out the castle. To the surprise of absolutely no one, these leads to a fight between Tony and the Mandarin.

The fight sequence itself is okay, but not great. Don Heck’s art work is often very effective, but it’s also always a little stiff and his fight choreography sometimes plods along without reaching the same heights as Kirby and Ditko commonly do. All the same, the Mandarin is a nifty addition to Marvel’s growing stable of villainy.


Kirby and Ditko weren’t the only Marvel artists who could choreograph a cool fight scene, though. Dick Ayers does a very nice job of that in this story.

A scientist vows revenge after being sent up the river by Giant Man for selling secrets to the Reds. He genetically engineers a winged horse, then rigs a lance with super weaponry. Now calling himself the Black Knight, he goes up against Hank a second time.

The ensuing fight scene is a lot of fun, with the Black Knight using his various secret weapons (including an “itch ray”—I love that) while Hank alternates between being Giant Man and Ant Man as the situation requires. The Wasp takes part as well, getting her own moments of glory along the way. The action is laid out in a fast-paced and logical manner—just as all good fight scenes should be.

In the end, the Black Knight flees the battle, but (of course) vows to return.

That’s it for February 1964. In March, the FF will deal with a really big baby; Spider Man tries to learn the identity of a masked mob boss; the Human Torch faces off against the Wizard once again; Dr. Strange fights off an inter-dimensional invasion; Thor is still dealing with Zarrko; Iron Man goes up against the Scarecrow (no, it’s not the Batman villain); Giant Man and Wasp have a rematch against the Porcupine; the X-Men meet the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants for the first time. And—in the Avengers—a certain Living Legend of World War II puts in his first modern day appearance.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...