Wednesday, June 9, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1965, part 3


Hank creates a new weapon—a cybernetic helmet that allows him to enlarge or reduce other objects. In the meantime, Jan puts together a snazzier costume for him.

Actually, the costume is a bit on the ugly side, but what the hey. When Hank’s experiments lead to the accidental enlargement of a spider, he and Jan are too busy fighting for their lives to worry about fashion.

Hank and Jan’s feature in Tales to Astonish is coming to an end soon. Including this issue, they have five more tales in which to astonish us before being replaced by the Submariner. Sadly, their final stories will all by average at best. It’s a pity that Giant Man couldn’t go out with a bang.

The Hulk storyline picks up with the big green guy still battling the Leader’s Humanoids. Some troops show up and a shower of hand grenades knock the combatants into the ocean. Hulk changes back into Banner and the Humanoids escape.

Not long afterwards, a Russian submarine “rescues” Banner and takes him to a secret research facility. Banner refuses to work for the Commies and gets locked into a tiny cell. Not surprisingly, he Hulks out and trashes the facility. The story ends with the Russian C.O. hunting for Hulk with a powerful “proton gun” and an armored column coming with reinforcements.

Steve Ditko is still doing the art and, as I’ve said before, his style (so perfect for Spider Man and Dr. Strange) doesn’t really fit the Hulk. But it’s still good artwork and Stan Lee has found a good storytelling rhythm for the serial format of the series.


Remember last issue ended with Wasp taking a bullet through her lung. Now her condition is critical and only one surgeon in the whole world has the skill to save her.

That’s a situation that comes up an awful lot in comic books, but it’s a reliable old saw. The Avengers quickly find the “doctor,” but he turns out to have been replaced by an alien. So now the Avengers have to track down some other aliens and rescue the doctor so he can save the Wasp.

They find the aliens (refugees from an interplanetary war) in a secret city near the North Pole. They needed the doctor to help them develop a way to breath Earth’s atmosphere.

After some fighting, the aliens agree to release the doctor and leave Earth. The doctor saves Wasp. And we get a cameo by the Watcher at the end.

The story is heavy on melodrama and we see a few too many panels of Giant Man worrying sick about Wasp and struggling to pull himself together. But overall we get a pretty good story. Melodrama is perfectly fine as long as its wrapped around good basic storytelling.

X-MEN #10

News reports come in of a “wild man” in a loin cloth running around Antarctica with a pet saber-tooth tiger. Professor X determines (via Cerebro and his own telepathy) that this guy isn’t a mutant, but the X-Men have been several weeks without a mission. So he sends them off to check it out pretty much just to keep the team in practice.

They track the “wild man” to a crevice in the ice, then down to the Savage Land—a tropical lost world full of prehistoric creatures.

Marvel Girl and (soon after) Angel are captured by ill-tempered natives and offered up to a T-Rex as a sacrifice. The other X-Men manage to find the wild man & his tiger and form an alliance. The native village is raided and, after some fighting, the X-Men rescue the captives and retreat. The wild man then insists they leave the Savage Land.

The wild man is, of course, Ka-Zar—the Marvel Universe analog to Tarzan. The Savage Land is the sort of lost world that Edgar Rice Burroughs seeded all over the Earth in the Tarzan Universe. And that’s just fine—stealing from Burroughs is an appropriate thing for any comic book universe to do. Lost worlds and jungle men are a natural fit. We get no origin tale for Ka-Zar yet, but that will come in time. The Savage Land (eventually revealed to be one of the few sources of a valuable energy-absorbing metal called “Vibranium”) will be fodder for a lot of fun stories in years to come.

The story gives Jack Kirby a chance to draw prehistoric dioramas and action sequences involving saber-tooths, dinosaurs, pterodactyls and (at one point) a stampede of mammoths. He also gives the natives some cool “primitive” weapons—such as a bow rigged to fire multiple arrows at the same time. It all looks great and he choreographs it all with his usual impeccable skill.

The one downside to the story—Scott and Jean are doing the “I love her/him, but can never tell him/her” bit that Stan had been shamelessly overusing in Marvel Comics during the early years. I think I had actually repressed the memory of it going on in the X-Men until I ran across its blatant use in this story. By this time, Stan was drifting away from this in many of the other books, but it still painfully lingered on in a few places.

But it’s not enough to upset what is otherwise a strong and exciting story.

That’s it for March 1965. In April, the FF go Skrull-hunting; Spidey goes Green Goblin-hunting; Johnny and Ben have trouble with a bouncing ball; Dr. Strange remains on the run; Thor gets on his dad’s bad side again; Iron Man runs up against an old enemy in a new costume; Giant Man fights a woman with a power sort of related to his; Hulk smashes a bunch of Commies; the Avengers rematch against the Masters of Evil; and Daredevil finally changes his costume AND has what is possibly his coolest fight ever.

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