Wednesday, May 5, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1965, part 1


The FF is traveling to State University (Reed and Ben’s alma mater), where Reed is scheduled to give a speech. But the proceedings are interrupted with Diablo (the master of alchemy encountered in issue #30) shows up. Diablo uses one of his potions to bring an experimental being called the Dragon Man to life. Battle and mayhem follow.

Diablo would never be more than a second-tier villain, so this issue isn’t really exceptional. But it’s still good solid fun. The Dragon Man’s visual design is an example of typical Kirby coolness. Through it all, Ben spits out one-liners at a fast and furious rate.

By this point, I think Ben (with his combination of humor, compassion and loyalty) is pretty firmly cemented in as the emotional backbone of the team. But Reed and Sue get some cootie-filled moments of their own—the issue ends with Reed finally proposing and Sue accepting. This is a relief, as Stan Lee was still using the “unrequited love” bit far too often in these early Marvel books.


Peter teams up with the Human Torch again, but there’s less bantering between the two this time, as circumstances leave Johnnie unsure whose side Spidey is on this time around.

The villain is the Beetle, who fought Johnnie in Strange Tales #123. Now out of prison, he’s stalking the Torch in hopes of exacting revenge.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole bunch of “young love” shenanigans going on. Johnnie’s girl Dorrie Evans is annoyed with him for flaming off at a moment’s notice. Later, she happens to meet Peter Parker and is impressed by his gentlemanly ways, then uses him to make Johnnie jealous. This, in turn, convinces Betty Brant that Peter is seeing someone else.

Peter gets in a snit and decides to make a play for Dorrie as Spider Man just to tick Johnnie off. But this results in Spidey running into the Beetle. A fight ensues, with Beetle using Dorrie as a hostage at one point. The Torch joins in the fight, but he’s at first convinced that the webslinger is responsible for snatching Dorrie.

It all could have been too soap-opera to work, but Stan Lee’s script manages to mix up the superhero action with some good characterizations. What we have here are a bunch of teenagers who often make stupid decisions regarding their relationships—just like in real life. Well, except for the superpowers, kidnappings and such what. That part doesn’t quite parallel real life.

Overall, the character arcs here work very well in getting us to like and sympathize with everyone involved. As is typical with the best Spider Man stories, it’s an adroit combination of characterization and comic book action.

The one part I didn’t buy was how quickly Johnnie jumps to the conclusion that Spider Man might be a bad guy. By now, they’ve worked together enough for that to seem a little out of character. But overall this was a good, solid story.


The Terrible Trio—the three low-level crooks given superpowers by Doctor Doom back in FF #23—have escaped from prison and manage to attack Johnny at a point where his flame is weak from overuse. But Ben arrives in the nick of time, using both his strength and his brains to rope in the bad guys.

The Trio isn’t a very interesting group, either visually or in terms of personality. But the story nicely highlights Ben and Johnny’s friendship. Not a great story, but good enough for what it is.

When a panel of four scientists are discounting the existence of magic on a TV show, they abruptly get sucked into another dimension, kidnapped by yet another despotic ruler. Dr. Strange pursues and defeats the despot in single, magical combat.

I suppose that the extra-dimensional despot bit is overused a bit in the Dr. Strange stories, but Steve Ditko always makes the landscapes, creatures and magic spells look so weirdly cool that there’s really no reason to complain.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll drop in on Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

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