Wednesday, February 17, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1964, part 2


Thor battles Magneto in this issue—in yet another cross-over meant to publicize another Marvel book. As was usual for the time, it’s perfectly fair in that it is self-contained here. You don’t have to spend money on the X-Men unless you want to do so.

And the battle is a good one. Thor confronts Magneto on a submarine, where the bad guy is hanging out while the rest of the Evil Brotherhood is trying to track down the X-Men. The Asgardian is too powerful for Magneto, but the mutant manages to catch his hammer in a magnetic force field. In the heat of the fight, Thor doesn’t get the hammer back in a minute’s time, thus turning back into Donald Blake. That makes for some hairy moments dodging traps until Blake gets hold of his hammer (now, of course, a walking stick again), turns back into Thor and then start beating down on Magneto. The mutant flees in a one-man sub.

There’s a few odd things about this issue, though. The X-Men sort of guest-star near the end, but are always just off-panel. Why Stan and Jack opted not to actually show them is a mystery.

Also, Magneto doesn’t recognize Thor, assuming at first that he is another mutant. He even tries to recruit Thor into the Brotherhood. Gee whiz, I know Magneto spends most of his time in various secret hideouts, but doesn’t he ever read a newspaper or watch the Six O’Clock news? You’d think someone planning world conquest would keep abreast of current events such as a Norse god hanging out in New York City.

And Thor doesn’t know who the X-Men are. The Fantastic Four knew about them when those groups met. Iron Man knew about them when he met Angel. Spider Man knew about them when Mysterio sicced some X-Men robots on him in Spider Man Annual #1. Heck, that means that Mysterio knew about them as well, doesn’t it? It seems Thor needs to drop a dime on a newspaper from time to time as well.

Oh, well, it’s a pretty minor continuity glitch. And the Tales of Asgard back-up story is another visual treat, with Odin banishing Thor from Asgard in what turns out to be a plan to flush out a traitor.


Kraven the Hunter and the Chameleon, both deported at the end of Spider Man #15, are sneaking back into the country together. (This story, obviously, is set before the events on Spider Man Annual #1, in which Kraven is already back in the country.)

The two are arguing about who should be in charge when Kraven runs into Iron Man and immediately gets captured. I love that a villain who gives poor Spidey such a hard time pretty much goes down after one punch against Iron Man. Makes perfect sense, though—Kraven’s “strength and speed of a jungle cat” doesn’t put him in Shellhead’s class at all.

Chameleon remains free and decides defeating Iron Man is a good way to prove he’s better than Kraven. Soon after, disguised as Captain America, he manages to fool Iron Man into thinking the real Cap is an imposter. The two heroes are soon fighting tooth-and-claw. With a little help from Giant Man and the Wasp, the two figure out they’ve been conned and the Chameleon is caught.

There’s some pretty good banter between Pepper and Happy mixed in with this story as well.


Hank Pym learns that an old friend—an FBI agent—has been arrested in East Berlin and accused of spying. Hank flies to Germany and sneaks over the Berlin Wall as Ant Man. He contacts his friend and learns the Commies have a new weapon: a ray (discovered accidentally, so it can’t be reproduced) that gives animals human intelligence. They’re using the ray to make an army of gorilla soldiers, stronger and more agile than human soldiers.

So Hank has to find and destroy the ray before he and his friend make a getaway, fighting his way through the gorilla soldiers to do so. Dick Ayers is the artist and gives us a couple of fun panels during the course of the battle. One is when Hank manages to turn the ray on a bunch of Communist officials. The effect on humans is to turn them into animals, so we get to see the bad guys jumping around wildly and scratching their armpits.

Also, the panel in which Giant Man, carrying his friend, smashes through the Wall to freedom is pretty darn cool.

The Hulk gets his premiere story here. This will prove to be more successful than his original run in his own book and, in fact, Tales to Astonish will eventually morph into The Hulk as other features are phased out.

Stan Lee starts out by clarifying why Banner changes into the Hulk. Originally, he became the Hulk at night. Later on, it seemed to become random. But now Bruce Banner realizes that he now turns into the Hulk whenever he becomes stressed out about anything. He turns back into Banner when the Hulk becomes equally stressed out.

This is eventually changed into changing into Banner when the Hulk becomes relaxed, presumably because otherwise you could never involve Hulk in any prolonged fight scenes.

Anyway, Banner invents an indestructible robot for the army, designed to be operated by someone inside it. A spy makes off with it, stressing Banner out enough to become the Hulk. Hulk tries to fight the robot, but Banner built it too well and the green guy can’t make a dent in it. He turns back into Banner when he stresses out trying to destroy the robot. The story ends with the robot still on the loose and Banner now feeling he has again created something that will end up menacing humanity.

In fact, Stan Lee does a really good job introducing the angst that’s needed to make Hulk a successful character. I love the first few panels of the story, with the Hulk pounding away at a cave wall, shouting that he doesn’t want to turn into that weakling Banner again, but helpless to stop the transformation. Later, Banner realizes he needs to stay relaxed in order to stop the change, but realizes that no one can be relaxed all the time. There’s really nothing he can do to permanently stop the Hulk from appearing.


  1. Actually, I think if anybody wouldn't know who the X-Men were, Thor would be the likliest candidate. between responsibilities to Asgard and responsibilities as a physician, Thor/ Don Blake probably wouldn't have much time to see what the rest of the world is up to.

  2. I dunno if I buy that. As an Avenger, you'd think he'd have to keep up on super-powered incidents. Magnito's first appearance involved taking over a nuclear missle base, after all. That's the sort of thing that should rate at least a casual mention at the weekly Avengers meetings.

  3. Yeah but Thor has always been a bit haughty being Asgardian royalty.
    He probably figured that kind of thing was best handled by Iron Man or Cap.


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