Wednesday, December 23, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1964, part 1


This is an oddly paced issue. It starts with the FF taking a walk down Yancy Street and getting pelted with garbage, fire hoses and sneezing powder by the Yancy Street gang. This, in turn, gradually leads to our heroes getting ambushed and captured by the Red Ghost and his Super Apes.

The Red Ghost tries to strand them on the moon, but Sue keeps an airtight force field around them and they manage to make their way to the Watcher's home. Reed uses one of the Watcher's devices to force the Red Ghost's ship to crash. After some more shenanigans, the Red Ghost gets knocked into a matter teleporter that zaps him to some random location in the universe. The Watcher gets annoyed with the FF and teleports them back to Yancy Street.

It's actually a perfectly good story, giving Jack Kirby an opportunity to draw a cool spaceship and a number of super-scientific devices. But the plot has an odd feel to it. It kinda feels as if Stan and Jack were making it up as they went along without worrying quite enough about its overall structure. It may have needed one more re-write before going to press. The events that drive the story are just a little too haphazard to be truly satisfying.


Spidey continues to add new members to his Rogue's Gallery at a fast and furious pace. This time, Kraven the Hunter makes his debut. Kraven is hired by the Chameleon to hunt down and eliminate the webslinger.

Spider Man's final battle against Kraven is a running night-time battle through Central Park. As usual, Steve Ditko does a wonderful job choreographing the action and forcing both combatants to use their brains as well as their physical skills.

In the end, of course, Kraven is defeated. He and Chameleon are both deported, though Kraven will be back pretty quickly to help form the Sinister Six in Spider Man Annual #1.

There's some fun stuff going on in Peter Parker's love life in this issue. There's a pretty funny scene in which Liz Allen and Betty Brant meet for the first time, with Liz coming on to Peter and Betty getting jealous. All the while, Flash Thompson gets more and more aggrevated that Liz now seems to like Peter better than him. Peter winds the issue up by blowing chances to get a date with either girl.

But perhaps the most important girl we "meet" in this issue is someone Aunt May is trying to fix up with Peter. May is convinced that Mrs. Watson's (as-yet-unnamed) niece would be a nice match for Peter. That doesn't work out, but May will keep trying to fix up the two teenagers. Peter doesn't want anything to do with a blind date, though, and it'll be another 28 issues yet before Mary Jane Watson finally makes her famous entrance into the book.


The Marvel Universe continues to add well-designed and interesting second-tier villians to its line-up. This time out, it's the Beetle--a master mechanic who builds his own armored suit. Determined to make his reputation, he takes on both Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. But the two heroes eventually bring him to ground.

Two things of interest in this story:

First, the art is by Carl Burgos, the artist who created the orginal Human Torch two-and-a-half decades earlier.

Second, take note again that this story involved both Ben and Johnny. For the last twelve issues before the Human Torch is dropped from Strange Tales, he'll be sharing the limelight with the Thing. It's a good move--the two bickering friends play nicely off of each other.

Dr. Strange, in the meantime, has a run-in with Loki. The god of michief tries to con Strange into using a spell to steal Thor's hammer. But the sorceror tumbles onto Loki's real motives pretty quickly. In the fight that follows, Strange manages to hold his own for a time by using better tactics, but Loki (who is, after all, a god) nearly manages to finish him. Only the approach of Thor forces Loki to retreat at the last moment.

As usual, Ditko's visual style is a perfect match for the magic-soaked story. And it's a neat touch--acknowledging that Dr. Strange can't go mano-o-mano against a god.

That's it for now. Next week, we'll take a look at Thor, Iron Man and Giant Man.

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