Wednesday, April 28, 2010
History of the Marvel Universe: January 1965, Part 3
TALES TO ASTONISH #63
An occasional problem in the Ant Man/Giant Man series was matching him and the Wasp up against villains to wimpy to believably give the heroes a hard time. This time around, they are asked by the cops to help break up a protection racket run by a guy called the Wrecker.
This is not, by the way, the same villain who will show up in Thor a few years later with an enchanted crowbar. This Wrecker is just a hood in a mask.
Hank and Janet buy a hardware store and set themselves up as targets. When the Wrecker and his thugs come to collect, they take them down. The Wrecker uses a gas bomb at one point in an attempt to make him look like a tougher opponent than he really is, but there’s no hiding that he’s really too small-time to rate an entire story.
Over in the Hulk story, we finally find out who has been behind all the espionage shenanigans that have been going on for several issues. The Leader used to be an uneducated janitor. But when he was exposed to gamma radiation, he got green skin, an oversized head and a vast intellect. Now he runs a spy ring in hopes of gaining control of the government.
Banner is assigned to go along with a nuclear device being transported by train. The Leader sends a giant “Humanoid” he created (and controls telepathically) after the nuke.
This leads to a fun fight on the moving train between Hulk and the Humanoid. It’s a unique setting and the Humanoid has spongy skin that absorbs the power of Hulk’s punches, making him an interesting opponent. Steve Ditko is still doing the art and, while I still don’t think his style matches the character, he does his usual great job of fight choreography.
The Humanoid is defeated in the end, but circumstances make Banner look suspicious again. He ends up in a military prison cell, unable to explain his disappearances without admitting he’s the Hulk and worried he’ll Hulk-out again at any moment.
This Hulk series has quickly established a nice rhythm to it appropriate to a serial—with each issue advancing the story a little before ending at a cliffhanger moment.
I love the way this story begins. Giant Man receives an alarm from some frightened ants and immediately calls the Avengers. But when they find out Hank called them because some ants were scared, they get annoyed—especially Thor. Hank gets annoyed back and decides to check the danger out on his own.
Well, it turns out the ants knew what they were talking about. The Mole Man has built a device that will change the rotational speed of the Earth, doing this so gradually that only the ants notice at first. His goal is to wipe out the surface world while he and his Moloids are safe in an artificial gravity field.
Hank gets captured. When the other Avengers realize something is awry with the Earth, they also realize Hank was right all the time about the danger being real. I especially like Thor’s reaction to this—he’s particularly eager to get into battle to make up for the fact that he was the biggest crybaby when Hank first called them together.
There’s a big fight between the Avengers and the Mole Man’s forces, during which Hank is rescued. About halfway through the story, the Red Ghost abruptly shows up, telling the Mole Man they should team up. Stan Lee was usually pretty good about arranging villain team-ups, but this time around it comes across as contrived and unnecessary, adding little to the story. But the main Avengers vs. Moloids battle is still a lot of fun.
There is one aspect to the story that I suppose could be considered a continuity glitch. In the last issue, Iron Man was given a leave of absence while he dealt with the whole “Tony Stark is missing” story arc over in Tales of Suspense. That’s still going on (and will for a couple more issues), but Iron Man is back with the Avengers in this story.
But it’s not really a big deal. The exact order in which the various Marvel stories take place is always a bit amorphous. Presumably, the events stretching over the next few stories in Tales of Suspense all take place before this Avengers issue. I appreciate the way Stan Lee paid attention to continuity in the 1960s—I wish editors today would take the same care. But it’s also nice that he didn’t allow an overly slavish devotion to continuity get in the way of good storytelling.
X-MEN # 9
Professor X finally contacts the X-Men again and summons them to Europe to help him out. The good Prof is deep underground, confronting an old enemy named Lucifer. (No, not THE Lucifer. Just a guy named Lucifer.)
We find out that Lucifer was responsible for crippling Xavier, though we get no details about that at this time. In fact, we really don’t find out much about Lucifer at all— in later appearances, he’ll later turn out to be an agent of a malevolent alien race.
All we know about Lucifer right now is that he’s synched the detonator of a world-destroying bomb to his own heart. Hurt him in any way and the bomb goes off.
That requires Xavier to do a sort of telepathic brain surgery on Lucifer, rendering him unconscious without affecting his heart rate. In the meantime, the Avengers have followed “evil emanations” to the same area. The X-Men, telepathically briefed by Xavier, have to battle the Avengers to keep them away from Lucifer and perhaps inadvertently interfere with the prof’s telepathic efforts.
This part of the story is a little too contrived. The Avengers know the X-Men are good guys, so all the X-Men had to do was say “Don’t go there or you’ll destroy the world.” They would have been believed. Instead, they simply attack.
Oh, well, at least it’s a good fight. And when the X-Men finally join up with the Professor, there’s a very good, suspenseful sequence involving defusing the bomb. The whole bit about the bomb being tied into the villain’s heart rate is a great idea and it’s executed well.
That’s it for January. In February, the FF returns to college; Spidey teams up with the Torch once again; Ben and Johnny fight some old enemies, as does Thor; Dr. Strange visits yet another dangerous dimension; Iron Man continues his battle with the Mandarin; Cap visits a prison; Giant Man and the Wasp get really wet; the Hulk asks for tranquilizers; the Avengers apparently declare war on the world and Daredevil deals with a minor-league super-villain team-up.
SPECIAL NOTE: I am vaguely considering dividing up the History of the Marvel Universe entries to post on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, covering one comic book on each entry. I haven't decided whether it's a good idea or not. I'm fully aware that my blog has a fairly small number of regular readers (though I very much appreciate those of you who do visit regularly), but all the same I thought I'd see if you all had an opinion. Do you want this series to still pop up once a week and cover two or three comics each time, or would you rather have it three days in a row with one comic at a time? Post a comment if you have a preference.