Wednesday, May 26, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1965, part 1


The Wizard, Paste-Pot Pete and the Sandman (all of whom have tangled with Johnny in the pages of Strange Tales) team up to form the Frightful Four. For a fourth, the Wizard recruits a mysterious female with living hair named Madame Medusa.

We get no real history for Medusa in this issue. Later on, of course, we’ll find out she’s an amnesiac good guy and will serve as an introduction to the Inhumans—one of the best and most imaginative additions to the Marvel Universe.

I’d love to know if Stan and Jack had Medusa’s future planned out in advance, or if they made it up as they went along. In either case, it will work out just fine.

Before getting to the story itself, there’re a couple of other fun points. Throughout most of its history, the Frightful Four will consist of the three male members seen here, plus an often different fourth member. Heck, in a 1970s-era story, they’ll actually hold a recruiting drive to fill that fourth spot. It ends up adding a nice element of variety to the group’s appearances.

Point #2: The Sandman, by now, pretty much now qualifies for entry in the Rogue’s Galleries of two different heroes/groups. He’s definitely a Spider Man villain (and a member of the Sinister Six), but he’s also become a definite FF villain as well. Very few villains cross-over to different Rogue’s Galleries to that degree.

Anyway, the story itself is another good one. Alicia Masters actually gets a Crowning Moment of Awesome during Frightful Four’s initial attack. Johnny gets his CMoA as well when he swoops in to save everyone’s butt in the nick of time. The fight starts in the Baxter Building, goes up into the upper atmosphere, then ends up out in the wilderness somewhere. The Frightful Four is trounced and forced to retreat, but it’ll only be a couple of issues before they come back.


This issue has some real fun with the villains. The Circus of Crime is out on parole (Gee whiz, bad guys get paroled awfully quick in the Marvel Universe) and the Ringmaster is trying to plan their next caper.

But, not surprisingly, the other circus members are tired of him—he keeps getting them all sent back to the slammer. So they kick him out and elect the clown as the new leader.

This causes Spidey some trouble. He planted a tracer in Ringmaster’s hat, so when the circus troupe robs an art gallery, he ends up tracking down the one guy who wasn’t involved.

He does eventually find the other bad guys, leading to yet another great Ditko fight. It includes the nice touch of Spidey having particular trouble with Princess Python because he doesn’t want to hit a woman, followed by a wonderful one-page battle in which he goes one-on-one against the princess’ whopping big pet snake.

In the end, Spider Man rounds up the gang. The Ringmaster shows up at the climax to try to steal the loot from his ex-comrades, only to get nabbed by the cops along with them.

The issue ends with a classic Spider Man moment: Peter getting lectured by Aunt May for staying out too late.


Ben, Johnny and their girl friends have tickets to see the Beatles. (Ben would rather go bowling, but Alicia talked him into going to the concert instead.) But when some thieves rob the box office, the two heroes have to miss hearing “A Hard Day’s Night” while they run the bad guys down.

It’s a completely light-weight story. Ben and Johnny have far too much trouble catching a trio of minor gunmen, but the tale exists primarily to highlight their bantering and arguing. It’s a fun effort on that level.

Dr. Strange, in the meantime, begins a pretty heavy-duty and multi-part epic. The title at this point switches to the same sort of serial format that Stan Lee had been using with the Hulk for several months. It begins with Baron Mordo cutting a deal with Dormammu for extra power. Mordo and some minions then attack Strange, forcing him to make a run for it. Changing into civilian clothes, Strange is jumped by more of Mordo’s followers. He fights them off, but is still on the run as the issue ends.

It’s the beginning of a great story—one that will last over a year’s worth of stories. It’s going to be one of Dr. Strange’s finest hours.

That’s it for now. Next week, we will (as usual) look in on Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

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