Wednesday, March 31, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1964, part 2


Last issue, Jane was badly hurt and Thor was locked in combat with Cobra and Mr. Hyde (whose respective powers have been amped up by Loki).

Thor fights a running battle throughout the trap-laden house while—up in Asgard—Balder runs a gauntlet of dangers to find a healer who can save Jane. What follows is some great Jack Kirby action scenes. And there’s an unusul aspect to the fight near its end, when Thor defeats Cobra by rewiring one of the trap (he’d learned about electrical wiring from Iron Man).

In the end, the villains are caught and Jane is saved. Hopefully, she’ll make it through an issue or two without being kidnapped yet again.

The “Tales of Asgard" story is another short but visually sweet excuse to show off Kirby’s superlative artwork. Thor fights a duel against a big bully named Sigurd, nearly losing unti he figures out the source of Sigurd’s strength. Not much to it in terms of plot, but it looks magnificent.


We’re starting to get some strong storytelling in the Iron Man tales. After last issue’s close call (when the chest plate that keeps his heart pumping nearly runs out of power), Tony’s afraid to take his armor off. So he continues with his plan to tell everyone that Stark is on a secret business trip and he (Iron Man) has been left in charge.

But he’s making up this plan has he goes along and comes across as inconsistent. Pepper, Happy and the cops are all suspicious of him. In fact, they begin to think that maybe Iron Man has done away with Stark. Iron Man has to make a run for it and later, when he radios Thor to announce he won’t make the next Avenger’s meeting, the Thunder God replies the Avengers expect him to “lift the veil of suspicion” quickly to avoid tarnishing that group’s reputation.

In the meantime, the Black Widow sends Hawkeye to Stark’s factory to steal something she can use to get back into the good graces of the Russians. Hawkeye balks at treason, but the Widow vamps him into thinking she’s really working for “international peace.’

This leads to another Hawkeye-Iron Man fight in which the archer is driven off and Iron Man gets a chance to save Pepper’s life. Because of this, though everyone is still suspicious, they back off Iron Man for the time being and allow him to take charge.

Also, the Black Widow is snagged by Communist agents and taken out of the country. She’ll be back and she will, eventually, defect and become a good guy. But that leaves poor Hawkeye at loose ends for the time being. Of course, he’s on the verge of finally becoming an out-and-out good guy himself in just a few more months.

When Iron Man first got his own series, it suffered somewhat from a lack of strong supporting characters and any real emotional involvement. With the “Iron Man in charge” subplot going strong, that’s finally starting to change.

In the Captain America story, Cap is beatin’ up thugs again---this time, a team of assassins sent by Baron Zemo. Rick Jones gets in a few licks as well. As with most of these early Cap stories, there’s a very basic plot primarily intended to highlight the fight scene. And that’s just fine, because Jack Kirby gives us yet another outstanding fight.

I’m really giving my thesaurus a work-out for this month’s issue coming up with adjectives to describe both Kirby’s and Ditko’s incomparable layouts. (See? Imcomparable—another gift from my thesaurus.) But it’s true. One of the main reasons that most Marvel books from this time period were so good was that the right artists were drawing exactly the right books: Kirby on the FF, Thor and Captain America; Ditko on Spidey and Dr. Strange. The visuals they were providing each month are true gifts from the comic book gods.

That’s it for this week. Next time, we’ll finish December 1964 with looks at Giant Man, Hulk, the Avengers and Daredevil.

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