Wednesday, April 7, 2010
History of the Marvel Universe: December 1964, part 3
A petty thief happens to stumble across Hank Pym’s secret identity and also steal his Giant Man costume. With Hank’s size-changing ability now built into the suit’s cybernetic circuitry, that means the thief now has access to those powers.
But he lacks experience and Hank and the Wasp manage to catch him without too much trouble. In the meantime, an experiment to grow plants quickly has gone awry and Hank gets his costume back just in time to allow him to recruit enough ants to help the city from being overrun with foliage.
The story is hurt by an ending that was already a cliché. Hank just happens to have some “memory-loss” serum lying around. So he erases the knowledge of his secret identity from the thief’s mind. In fact, he erases the guy’s memories of ever having been a crook, pretty much requiring him to go straight. Why he doesn’t do that with every other crook he catches is never explained.
Just happens to have “memory-loss” serum lying around. Gee whiz, how convenient!
The Hulk, in the meantime, is still a prisoner of the Army. But a mysterious villain called the Leader hires the Chameleon to infiltrate the base and find out what happened to the last agent who tried that (that would be the guy who tried to steal the battle robot two issues earlier).
Also, Rick Jones hears about the Hulk being captured and, with Captain America’s approval, heads back west to help out the big green guy.
It’s only a ten-page story, but Stan Lee manages to efficiently juggle several plot elements. The Chameleon impersonates first General Ross and then Bruce Banner. The ensuing confusion allows Bruce to slip out of the chains holding the Hulk without anyone noticing his transformation. When the Chameleon kidnaps Betty and steals a small gamma bomb, Bruce hulks-out again, but enough of Bruce’s decency remains for Hulk to act to save Betty and protect the army base from the bomb. The Chameleon flees the scene without accomplishing anything.
Rick doesn’t get to do a lot in this issue, but with his presence re-established in Hulk’s life, he’ll get to play a more important part in upcoming issues.
All these odd goings-on leave Ross and Major Talbot suspicious of Banner and half-convinced that there’s a connection between him and the Hulk. That will also have a bearing on future issues.
The issue starts with the Avengers voting to give Iron Man a leave of absence while he deals with the “missing” Tony Stark. It’s a nice piece of continuity, but it also provides Kang, who is monitoring events from the 30th Century, an excuse to launch an attack on the now under-strength team.
His plan? Build a Spider Man robot and use this to lure the Avengers into a trap. Why a Spider Man robot? Kang gives a weak line of reasoning, but it’s really just an excuse to use Spidey on the cover and sell a few more copies.
But, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with such guest appearances as long as the stories are self-contained within one comic book. In this case, the use of Spider Man is a little too contrived to be fully satisfying, but it’s not nearly as bad as Giant Man’s “memory loss serum” incident.
Anyway, Kang’s plan nearly works, but the real Spider Man shows up to help beat the robot. Despite a contrivance or two, it’s a fun issue.
Overall, Marvel’s record in the 1960s of creating visually interesting and challenging villains was a good one. But every once in a while, they’d drop the ball and come up with a loser.
The Masked Matador is, well, a matador who wears a mask. He does stuff like throw his cape over the windshield of an armored car, making it crash so he can rob it.
In other words, he’s just plain dumb.
But this is the first of several issues that will feature the Wally Wood’s art. Wood was one of the great comic artists of his time, doing breathtaking work for EC Comics in the 1950s. He makes everything look a lot cooler than it deserves to be. And he’ll get a chance to draw some much better Daredevil stories in upcoming issues.
That’s it for 1964. We’ll enter 1965 next time, when a villain turns the FF against each other; Spider Man gets yet another new addition to his Rogue’s Gallery; Thor goes one-on-one against the Hulk; Iron Man has some trouble with both his employees and an old enemy; Captain America fights the Viet Cong; Johnny and Ben tangle with some mutants; Dr. Strange battles yet another all-powerful mystic threat; Giant Man looks into a protection racket; the Hulk gets his own arch-enemy; the Avengers take on an FF villain before popping over for a visit with the X-Men.