Wednesday, May 19, 2010
History of the Marvel Universe: February 1965, part 3
A guy named Leon Lazarus took over scripting chores for Giant Man in this issue from the hard-working Stan Lee (Stan would be back next issue), so maybe that explains the tiny continuity glitch coming up in a moment.
Hank and Jan have a lover’s spat and Jan leaves her costume and reducing capsules behind to take a plane trip and “try convincing myself I don’t love him.” But when Attuma captures the plane and its passengers, she has reason to regret leaving her superhero stuff behind.
Attuma wants to study some surface people to learn our weaknesses. Jan finds a few crumbled remains of an old reducing capsule in her purse and swallows these. It doesn’t affect her size much, but does allow her to send out one “cybernetic” distress call to some nearby ants.
That’s the glitch, of course. The reducing capsules allow Jan to shrink and grow. Talking to ants was always a separate thing, done via Hank’s cybernetic helmet. Either the new writer didn’t get that, or Stan (who was still editor) forgot it, or they just ignored it in order to advance the story and hoped no one noticed.
Stan Lee had no way of knowing that a comic book geek would be analyzing these stories in chronological order nearly a half-century later for the sake of a handful of blog readers. It’s really not that big a glitch, but it is fun to take note of it.
Anyway, Hank gets the SOS and shows up to free Jan. He’s brought her costume along and the two manage to force Attuma and his soldiers to retreat. The action is handled nicely, with Hank employing a series of sudden size changes to freak out the Atlantian soldiers.
Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is still being held prisoner by the Army. He can prove he’s not a spy, but only by admitting to being the Hulk. He doesn’t want to do that, because that would mean enemy agents would target him for kidnapping to find out how to make their own guys into Hulks.
Rick Jones gets Hulk out of it. I love this part: He uses his Avengers ID to get into see the President. Then he tells the President the whole story. The President then uses his pull to get the charges against Banner dropped.
So at this point in Marvel history, three people know that Bruce is the Hulk: Bruce himself, Rick Jones and President Lyndon Johnson. Reminds me of a Superman story from a few years earlier, in which JFK disguises himself as Clark Kent to help preserve the Man of Steel’s secret ID. Apparently, if you are ever a superhero and need help keeping your real name a secret, the President of the United States is your go-to guy.
Anyway, Bruce and a still-distrustful Major Talbot are soon off to a deserted island to test Bruce’s “nuclear absorber,” a device that defends against atomic war by absorbing all the power of an atomic blast. But the Leader is still planning on stealing the device (though capturing the Hulk for study has become more important to him.)
The villain sends a group of his Humanoids to the island. They get into a fight with the Hulk, who is stronger than the artificial creatures, but gets increasingly frustrated when he can’t physically damage any of them. (They are made of a special plastic that resists physical harm.) The issue ends with the fight in a seeming stalemate, but with the Leader hoping his Humanoids will soon overwhelm the big guy.
One interesting thing to note: For the last few issues, Stan Lee has begun taking the Hulk down the “slow and stupid” personality route. It’ll take awhile, but we’re are gradually getting to the child-like Hulk personality that would be standard for him for years to come.
In this issue, we are introduced to the Maggia—the Marvel Universe’s answer to the Mafia. Remember that for quite a long time in the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of people threw fits if you used the word “Mafia,” since it was supposedly denigrating to Italians. Never mind that the Mafia really exists or that acknowledging this doesn’t condemn an entire people or culture---you got into trouble if you used that word.
So I’m assuming that Stan Lee came up with an ethnically-neutral alternate name for his organized crime guys just to avoid unnecessary controversy. There may very well have been another reason, but that seems likeliest.
Anyway, the Avengers are taking time between saving the world to smash some Maggia operations. The top Maggia guy, Count Nefaria, responds by using “three-dimensional images” of the Avengers to frame them in an attempt to take over control of the government. Soon, the Avengers are hated by everyone, with the army taking potshots at them.
They figure out that Nefaria is behind it all, though. With the help of Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade, they manage to battle their way into Nefaria’s castle and clear their names. The Count is deported and the day is saved.
Except that the Wasp takes a stray bullet and is badly injured. The issue ends with Rick carrying her seemingly lifeless body up to the other Avengers.
Rick, by the way, is really getting around this month. He’s out west with Bruce Banner, then at the White House to talk to the President, then back in New York helping out the Avengers. Who the heck is paying for his airfare, anyways?
Kinda odd villain team-up here, but it makes sense when explained. A chemist comes up with a fear gas formula and takes on the identity of Mr. Fear. He wants a gang consisting of people with useful powers or abilities, but not too powerful as to object to his leadership. So he recruits the Eel (the slippery guy who had fought the Human Torch) and Ox (the strong-man member of the Enforcers).
Daredevil soon runs across them. Mr. Fear’s gas forces the Man Without Fear to run away in a panic, but in a couple of rematches, he gets the best of them all.
It’s a pretty good story improved by Wally Wood’s excellent layouts. And there are several nice touches. I love, for instance, that Daredevil knows Ox is nearby by smelling his cheap hair tonic.
The downside is that the Matt/Karen relationship continues to be another example of the “I love him/her, but don’t dare tell him/her” that Stan Lee used far too often. That being said, he is moving away from that conceit in most of the other titles. It’s only here and in the Iron Man that it remains.
Mr. Fear, by the way, will have in interesting history. The current guy makes one more appearance in Daredevil #54, when he gets murdered and someone else steals his weapon and costume. Over the years, at least two more bad guys also use the costume. It seems that no one ever gets to be Mr. Fear more than once.
That’s it for February 1965. Next month, the FF meet a future member of their group; Spider Man goes back to the circus; Ben & Johnny try to see the Beatles; Dr. Strange’s old enemies gang up on him; Thor gains a new enemy; Tony Stark turns out to not be dead; Captain America returns us to the days of World War II; Giant Man redesigns his costume; Hulk takes an unintentional trip behind the Iron Curtain; the Avengers look for a doctor and find an alien; and the X-Men pay their first visit to the Savage Land.