Wednesday, July 28, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1965, part 1

FANTASTIC FOUR #39


The FF are rescued from the Pacific atoll on which they were stranded last issue when a U.S. Navy sub picks them up. But they soon discover they are definitely without powers. All four immediately realize that this makes them sitting ducks for their enemies.


Back in New York, Reed works himself into near-exhaustion (and severe crankiness—“Ben, listen to me, you clumsy bumbler!”) trying to come up with devices to duplicate their powers.


Well, Dr. Doom (who has snapped out of the hypnotic spell from FF Annual #2 that convinced him he had defeated Reed) attacks and takes over the Baxter Building. He uses various devices of Reed’s to attack the FF, who were practicing with their power-duplicating devises at a nearby warehouse. Fortunately, Reed was also consulting with attorney Matt Murdock, which means Daredevil soon jumps in to help.


Daredevil’s prowess and Reed’s brains combine to help them avoid Doom’s attacks. The issue ends with DD drawing Doom’s fire while the FF approaches the Baxter Building to take on their arch-enemy—powers or no powers.


As usual, great Kirby visuals abound throughout the story. I especially like the sequence in which Doom tries to ram everyone with the remote-controlled Fantasticar, separating it into its individual sections to try to overwhelm them.


Characterizations are also handled well. There’s a real sense that the Four are all scared to death without their powers to depend on, but they press on anyways. Ben, not surprisingly, has the best line here: “It was easy to be a brave loudmouth when I had the Thing’s strength. Now I’ll see how good Ben Grimm is when the chips are down.”


SPIDER MAN #25

This is a great issue. I love the set up. Peter goes to JJJ with some Spider Man photos. Jonah isn’t interested at first, so Peter convinces him that the photos actually make Spidey look bad. This ticks off Betty, who can’t believe that Peter would knock the superhero who once saved his Aunt May from Doctor Octopus.


Peter makes things worse when a scientist shows up claiming to have a robot (The Spider Slayer) that can defeat Spider Man. Both Jonah and Peter figure the guy is a crank, but Peter sees an opportunity to take more newsworthy photos. He talks Jonah into giving the robot a try, which ticks Betty off even more.


It’s all wonderfully done, especially when we see Peter’s chagrin when the robot is tested and actually proves to be formidable!


The robot’s design is undeniably a little bit silly, but it’s effective all the same. The touch of having Jonah’s face projected onto the robot’s TV-screen face when he operates it is brilliant.


Anyway, Peter manages to use his science skills to disable the robot. He basically figures out where the off button is. Along the way, though, he loses his costume. (I’m not going to try to explain how that happens.)


There’s also some funny character stuff involving Betty and Liz being jealous and catty towards each other, while Flash gets increasingly annoyed by Liz’s interest in Peter. We also get another almost-appearance by Mary Jane. We actually see her this time—well, all but here face, which is always conveniently blocked from view. Peter loses a chance to meet her and she’ll continue to be an unseen running gag for another 1 ½ years until he finally does.


The issue ends when Aunt May finds Peter’s spare costume. She buys the story that it’s just a costume he got for a gag, but that leaves Peter with no costume at all. Will that cause problems for him next issue? Well, duh.


STRANGE TALES #133

Johnny and Ben’s next-to-last Strange Tales adventure has them getting captured by the Puppet Master, but thinking their way out of trouble in the nick of time. It’s a short and well-done little adventure story—enhanced by some good banter between the two heroes.


The Puppet Master, by the way, has a new look in this story, having gotten plastic surgery. He still looks creepy as all get-out—just a different sort of creepy. He’ll revert back to his old appearance before long, though.


In the meantime, we discover that Dr. Strange zapped himself into another dimension at the end of the last issue—the only way he could escape Mordo.


He ends up in a random dimension, this one ruled by a despotic sorceress. Not surprisingly, Dr. Strange ends up helping the rightful queen regain the throne. I love the way he manages this: Still exhausted from his fight with Mordo, he’s initially defeated by the sorceress. But he mind-probes a lizard-like pet animal, learning the location of a globe that gives the sorceress her power. With the help of the rightful queen, he destroys the globe. The resultant release of energy tosses him off into yet another dimension.


Ditko really has a chance to go to town with bizarre visuals this time around. That and Stan Lee’s increasing skill at pacing a serial story make this another strong issue.


That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll visit with Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.


IMPORTANT MESSAGE: I'm having a ball doing the History of the Marvel Universe & I will continue on at least into the late 1960s (when we'll get to a point where I don't own reprints to a number of Marvel comics and would have to start leaving gaps). I'm thinking, though, of occasionally taking a break from this and using one Wednesday a month to analyze a multi-part story or specific issue from DC, Gold Key, Dell or EC. Once again, I am aware that I have a very small readership, but if any of you have an opinion on this, please let me know. Would you like to see these sorts of quick reviews expanded out into other comics--or should I concentrate just on my chronological Marvel reviews?

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