Wednesday, August 26, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1964,part 1


I love the way this issue begins—with a baby dinosaur rampaging through one of Reed’s labs. (Really, it’s no wonder other tenants in the Baxter Building were complaining in the previous issue.)

Reed had been conducting experiments with Doctor Doom’s time machine, but he had left Ben and Johnny to look after it while he stepped out of the lab for a moment. It’s never explained why Reed had to leave the lab, but I suppose even super-powered brilliant scientists have to visit the, um, little boys’ room from time to time.

Anyway, Ben and Johnny take to bickering and the dinosaur appeared while they weren’t paying attention to the time machine. The FF soon corrals the little guy and sends him back to his own time, but Reed blows up at the others. And, man, Reed can be COLD when he’s mad, with cutting references to “my so-called partners” and their “alleged minds.”

While this family squabble is going on, Doctor Doom is instigating his latest plan to take revenge on the FF. He recruits a trio of criminals and uses a new invention to give each of them a different superpower. Each power is specifically designed to counter one member of the Fantastic Four.

The plan works initially and the FF are all soon prisoners of Doom. He “rewards” his allies by teleporting them into another dimension “until your master has need for you again.” Doom can pretty cold as well.

Of course the FF soon figures out how to escape. Ironically, though, Reed isn’t much use—it’s the other three that come up with the tactics and do the bulk of the fighting. In the end, Doom is tossed through a dimensional portal into deep space. But he’s been lost in deep space before, so it’s a safe bet he’ll be back.

This is a fun issue. The bickering between the four heroes is well-written and everyone stays in character. And the story is expertly constructed—all that bickering is smoothly intertwined with the action and the overall plot flows along quite nicely.


We’re introduced to yet another member of Spider Man’s ever-growing rogue’s gallery. Electro, given his power when he was struck by lightning, has gone on a criminal rampage.

Electro is a good villain and the action sequences are laid out with Steve Ditko’s usual skill. There’s some great stuff with J. Jonah Jamison as well, who at first publicly accuses Spider Man and Electro of being the same person, then must (of course) retract this later on. Oh, yeah, Aunt May’s on her death bed yet again, in need of an expensive operation. But that’s pretty typical for Aunt May.

But it’s the growing relationship between Peter and Betty Brant that’s at the heart of this issue. It’s handled really well—the emotions expressed by the two characters come across as human without slipping into melodramatic soap opera territory. Betty is shown as a decent and compassionate person and Peter is shown as a young man slowly realizing just how attractive those characteristics are in a girl.

There’s also a great moment at Peter’s high school: Flash Thompson begins to think that maybe he shouldn’t be picking on “puny Parker” so much. But Peter is too worried about Aunt May to pay any attention to Flash’s attempt to be friendly, thus inadvertently blowing a chance to end their rivalry.

All in all, a good solid issue with some sharp characterizations.


The Human Torch has a rematch against the Eel, a skilled costumed burglar he fought five issues earlier. It’s not a bad story, but plods along a little too slowly to be truly successful.

The Dr. Strange story is much more interesting, due to Steve Ditko’s wonderful layouts. Baron Mordo is trying to take revenge on Strange yet again, this time by casting a spell that tosses Strange’s GreenwichVillage home into another dimension.

But Dr. Strange manages to outwit Mordo and defeats him in a one-on-one magical battle.

It’s a short but visually sweet story.

Next week, we’ll look in on Thor, Iron Man and Giant Man to finish up February 1964.

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