Wednesday, March 10, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1964, part 2


I’ve whined about this before, but I can’t help it: Why the heck does “All-Knowing, All-Seeing” Odin keep taking advice from Loki? You know, the god of mischief who has betrayed Asgard on numerous occasions? This just seems like an inherently bad idea.

Oh, well, it’s a nifty issue otherwise. Loki has bailed Mr. Hyde and Cobra out of prison and magically increased their power. He has them kidnap Jane Foster (who, at this point in Marvel history, may very well hold the record for “girl friend most often kidnapped”) and use her to force Thor to back off when he comes after them

Odin—on the advice of Loki, for gosh sakes—observes these events and gets in a snit, banning Thor from Asgard. But when Thor deduces that Loki is involved, he’s got to fight his way into Asgard to confront the villain. This leads to a wonderful but all-to-brief fight scene against Heimdall on the Rainbow bridge, then a free-for-all with a bunch of Asgardian Red Shirts. This is the sort of stuff Jack Kirby always makes visually awesome.

Loki rats out his minions and Thor is zapped back to Earth by Odin to battle Hyde and Cobra. Jane gets hurt in the crossfire and the issue ends with the villains about to launch another attack on the Thunder God.

The Tales of Asgard story involves Odin and his army confronting a rebel army and apparently losing. It’s a short but effective tale that, as usual, gives Jack Kirby free reign to add a little more visual awesomeness to the issue.


The Black Knight breaks out of jail and vows to take revenge on the Avengers. He attacks Stark Industries to force Iron Man to fight him—starting with Shellhead simply because he doesn’t know how to find any of the other Avengers.

There’s a really good airborne dogfight between the two characters that makes up the bulk of the issue, with the Knight using an assortment of weapons to hold his own against Tony. It’s marred slightly at the end when Black Knight, knocked off his flying horse, is falling to the ground. He and Iron Man have an awfully long conversion (basically a negotiating session—“drop your lance and I’ll save you” stuff) during that fall before Tony finally saves the guy. A bit too long, in fact, to be believable—they did everything but formally draw up a treaty while the Black Knight is plunging to his doom.

Wrapped around the action stuff is a sub-plot in which Tony starts having chest pains. He realizes his chest plate is malfunctioning and realizes he has to keep his armor on to give the plate enough power to keep his heart pumping. So the issue ends with Iron Man telling a suspicious Pepper and Happy that Tony’s gone on a secret trip and has left him in charge. This is the beginning of an extended sub-plot in which Tony’s life as Iron Man is going to interfere with his ability to run his business, eventually bringing him into conflict with a senator who wants to cancel his government contracts. It’s a good idea that will largely be well-executed, though it will also include far too much whining from Tony about being secretly in love with Pepper.

All things considered, it’s a good story—Don Heck’s action sequences are never quite up to Kirby or Ditko standards, but they’re still fun.

But if you want to see a Jack Kirby action scene, turn the page and read Captain America’s first modern-era solo story. A gang of crooks waits until it is Captain America’s turn to keep watch at the Avengers Mansion. They figure they can get the drop on a “glorified acrobat” with no powers, then loot the place of anything valuable.

But Cap proves too much for them. The bad guys through everything but the kitchen sink at Cap, including a guy in an armored suit, a gas bazooka, and a couple of karate experts. But to no avail—the Living Legend of World War II cleans the floor with them all.

Gee whiz, it’s a fun fight. It’s a vivid, dynamic sequence that moves quickly without ever confusing the reader—a wonderful example of Jack’s skill at fight choreography.

This story also introduces us to Jarvis, the Avengers’ butler. He only gets a few panels this time around, but he’ll become a regular in Avengers. Superheroes will come and go from the group, but Jarvis will be eternal.

That’s it for this week. I was including Giant Man and the Hulk along with Thor and Iron Man, but with the addition of Captain America, we’ll hold off on the two big guys till next week. We’ll also visit with the Avengers and the X-Men as we finish off November 1964.

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