Wednesday, March 24, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1964, part 1


This is a great issue. It has a strong plot that is perfectly designed to show off Jack Kirby’s strengths as an artist.

Namor has found his people again and been re-accepted as King, promising never to leave them again. But heavy is the brow that wears the crown—Namor soon finds himself in pitched battle with Attuma and his barbaric hoards.

This is Attuma’s first appearance—he’ll be a regular nemesis of the Sub-Mariner throughout the years. But it’s an Atlantean we’ve met before who really causes trouble. Lady Dorma, annoyed because Namor blew her off when she expressed love and concern for him, allows Attuma’s forces to pass by Atlantis’ first line of defenses.

Struck by guilt, she runs to the FF for help. Reed’s no fan of Namor, but Attuma would be a worse threat. So Reed sprays them all with an “Oxo-spray” that will allow the to breathe underwater for a time, then they race off to help.

They arrive just as Namor and Attuma are facing off in a duel. Attuma’s got a bunch of traps set up to allow him to cheat, but the FF manage to secretly take these out. Namor wins the duel without ever evening knowing his unlikely allies were there.

Kirby does wonderful work here. His designs for the undersea vehicles, weapons and creatures are, well, fantastic. And he—as always—gives us exciting and seamlessly choreographed action sequences.

Stan Lee provides everyone with great dialogue—especially Ben Grimm, whose one-liners fly at an even faster-than-usual pace.

Another especially strong issue in what was still Marvel’s best book.


Or maybe The Amazing Spider Man is Marvel’s best book at this time. Spider Man is out catching crooks again and soon re-establishes his tarnished reputation. But, in the meantime, Sandman and the Enforcers have teamed up to start taking out superheroes (whether for revenge or in preparation for a crime wave isn’t made clear—but what the hey. Either motive would have been legitimate).

The bad guys capture the Human Torch (who, in a nice bit of continuity, is exhausted from his fight in this month’s Strange Tales) and use him as bait for Spidey. But the webslinger proves to be too tough for them, fighting the villains off until he’s able to free Johnny. Together, the two heroes soon round up everyone but Sandman.

In a wonderful sequence, Sandman manages to get away when Spidey and the Torch get in each other’s way and end up tangled in webbing. But the crook is too exhausted to escape when a couple of cops grab him.

Just as this month’s FF was a perfect showcase for Kirby, this month’s Spider Man is a perfect showcase for Steve Ditko. He handles the action beautifully, of course. But he also does a great job on the character-driven moments. There’s scene in which J.J. Jameson is about to give a speech about how he exposed Spider Man as a coward. When an assistant (an obvious yes-man with the wonderful name of Wormley) whispers to him that Spider Man is back in action, we get a series of panels showing Jonah’s facial expression transforming from a wide shark-like smile to a look of pure horror. It’s hilarious.

Other character moments are seeded throughout the story as well, including bits with Flash, Liz and Betty. We meet Ned Leeds, the Bugle reporter who will eventually marry Betty some years later and who is already getting dates with the girl. Peter, otherwise feeling good about himself, doesn’t bat an eye over this. He won’t get around to feeling jealous for another issue or two.

The issue ends with someone we haven’t seen before following Peter home. Who is he? That’s something we’ll learn next issue.


Johnny and Ben are captured and consistently outsmarted by a “mystery villain.” Fortunately for them, the “villain” turns out to be Reed, who is teaching them a lesson about why he’s the team leader (something Johnny had earlier been mouthing off about).

The plot is okay and the action handled well. The dialogue and personality clashes between Ben, Johnny and Reed are all quite good, lifting an average story to an above-average level.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange continues to face off against Dormammu. (And, by the way, it’s STILL impossible to type “Dormammu” correctly on the first try.) But before their duel begins, Dr. Strange gets some information from Clea.

Well, from the girl whose name we will learn is Clea in a future issue. She’s still unnamed at this point. But she lets the Doc know that if Dormammu is defeated, all the beings in Dormammu’s dimension will die. Dormammu long ago created a mystical barrier that keeps the super-powerful Mindless Ones from rampages through the dimension, destroying it all.

So if Strange beats Dormammu (gosh-darn-it, I hate typing that name), the dimension is doomed. But if Dormammu (GRRRRRR!!! Three tries to get it right!) isn’t defeated, Earth will be in danger.

Strange eventually decides that he’s gotta go with saving Earth, since he took an oath to protect that world. But when the duel begins, he slowly gets beaten down by Dormammu. But he fights well enough to force the bad guy to siphon off energy from the mystical barrier. This, in turn, lets the Mindless Ones break in. Dormammu and Strange have to work together to lock them out again.

That leaves Strange in Dormammu’s debt, allowing the sorcerer to exact a promise neither to harm Clea or ever threaten Earth.

Nearly the entire story takes place in Dormammu’s dimension, filled with strange creatures and bizarre landscapes. Ditko’s weird and inspired visuals are the backbone of this story, but the moral dilemma that presents itself to Doctor Strange also adds strength to the story.

That’s if for now. Next week, we’ll drop by to visit Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

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