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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1965, Part 1


FANTASTIC FOUR #34


Why the heck would you name your kid “Hungerford?” Even as a middle name?


But Gregory Hungerford Gideon is saddled with that particular middle name. Not that it has any real bearing on the story. But--- Hungerford? Must be a family name from his mother’s side. Undoubtedly Gideon grew up to be the cold-hearted guy he is because he was teased a lot in high school over it.


Anyway, as an adult, Gideon spends his time ignoring his wife and kid while working tirelessly to gain control of the world’s finances. He’s pretty much the Scrooge McDuck of the Marvel Universe—only Scrooge at least would show some affection for his nephews from time to time.


Gideon figures he’s three years away from his goal of controlling all the money in the world, but he’s impatient. He basically goes double or nothing against his main business rivals on a single bet. If he can do something impossible (such as destroy the Fantastic Four in a week’s time), then he wins the bet and everyone else sells out to him. Otherwise, he backs off and leaves them alone.


He sets a plan in motion which convinces Ben that Reed is a Skrull; convinces Johnny that Sue is being controlled by the Puppet Master; and convinces Sue that Johnny is a Dr. Doom-constructed robot. He pretty much just confuses the heck out of Reed.  The idea is to get them fighting among themselves, then lure them into a time displacement device that’ll throw them into the past.


But Gideon’s neglected son gets caught in the trap with Ben. Reed manages to pull them both back to the present and a guilt-ridden Gideon surrenders. He vows to give his billions to charity and devote himself to his family after accepting whatever legal punishment he’s given


It’s an okay story—mostly because Ben gets some great one-liners and gets a moment where he once again shows that he really cares for his “family.” But it’s also one of those stories in which Stan Lee goes a little too far overboard with the melodrama. A good read, but not among the best Stan and Jack were capable of.


And really—Hungerford? Would you name a child Hungerford?


SPIDER MAN #20


The guy who was following Peter Parker last issue turns out to be a greedy private eye named Mac Gargan. He’s been hired by Jameson to find out how Peter keeps getting all those great photos.


But Jameson soon changes Gargan’s job description, paying him 10 grand to drink an experimental serum that gives him the proportional strength of a scorpion. Along with this comes a suit with a cybernetic tail. Jameson then sends him out to capture and unmask the webslinger.


But the serum brings out Gargan’s evil nature and, after knocking out Spider Man in their initial bout, he turns outright to crime. When the scientist who invented the serum is killed trying to get an antidote to Gargan (now called the Scorpion), the new super-criminal decides to kill Jameson as well—the publisher being the only other person who knows who he really is.


Spidey shows up to save the day, though. He’s learned that the Scorpion is stronger then he is, so he just fights smarter, saving Jameson and capturing the crook.



Scattered throughout the issue are some nice character moments. Peter is relieved when Ned Leeds goes overseas for six months—he’d finally started to feel a little jealous of Ned dating Betty. And there’s a great moment that gives Jameson a little depth when he is hit big time with guilt over his responsibility in helping create a situation that led to an innocent man’s death and the creation of a super-villain.


There’s a nifty ending also—with Peter spending an evening in his room methodically sewing up the rips in his Spider Man costume. It’s one of those moments that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko used so well to humanize their characters.


STRANGE TALES #128


Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have finally decided to defect from Magneto’s Brotherhood, but they don’t know who to turn to for help. They finally decide on the Fantastic Four because they’re the only superheroes with a publicly known address. (Well, the Avengers have a public headquarters as well—but that’s a pretty minor continuity glitch, so we’ll forgive it.)


But Ben and Johnny seem to specialize in jumping perceived villains too quickly—it was only three issues ago they attacked Namor unnecessarily. This time it might be a little more understandable—they recognize Wanda and Pietro as wanted villains and attack before the two mutants have a chance to explain.



What follows is a nicely choreographed fight scene by artist Dick Ayers (limited a little too much by being confined to a single room) that leads to the mutants deciding homo sapians really can’t be trusted. They break off the fight and return to Magneto.


Obviously, this is yet another attempt to boost sales of the X-Men comics—which was still a weak seller compared to other Marvel books. But as was usual in those days, it still works fine as a self-contained story. It’s a gimmick, but it’s a perfectly fair one.



Meanwhile, Dr. Strange has to take on a rival sorcerer known as the Demon. At first, the bad guy seems too powerful to beat, but Strange manages to sneak a look at the magical texts the Demon used to learn his spells. With this inside information, he’s able to take him in the sort of one-on-one magic duel that Steve Ditko always makes look SO cool.



That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll drop in on Shellhead, Winghead and Goldilocks.

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