Wednesday, July 14, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1965, Part 2


Thor and Loki go on trial to decide which of them is fibbing about bringing Jane Foster to Asgard last issue. It’s a trial by combat of sorts: both are stripped of weapons and teleported to the desolate land of Skornheim. The first to brave the dangers and get back to Asgard alive is declared victor.

Loki cheats, of course, sneaking along his magical “norn stones” to give him access to magical spells. He thus manages to bypass many dangers that Thor has to think or fight his way past.

It all makes of delicious Kirby goodness, allowing the world’s greatest comic book artist to really go to town with imaginative imagery. In fact, by this point, I would be hard-put to say whether it’s here or on Fantastic Four that Kirby has been given the most free reign for his extraordinary imagination.

Anyway, while the trial is going on, Balder discovers that Loki has also sent the Executioner and the Enchantress to menace Jane Foster (with the purpose of distracting Thor with worry during the trial.) Balder tells Odin, who sends him to Earth to protect Jane. There’s a nice touch when Odin grumbles that he still disapproves of Thor dating a mortal, but he’ll still protect her—if only to keep her from being a pawn in the supposedly fair trial.

Oh, by the way, Balder brings his news to Odin while the All-Father is taking a bath. In case you are ever visiting Asgard, better keep in mind that under most circumstances “None may disturb Odin while he takes his imperial bath!”

The issue ends with Balder confronting E & E on Earth, while Loki seems to reach Asgard just ahead of Thor.

There’s another interesting aspect to the story. At one point, one of Rick Jones’ Teen Brigade friends sees Jane running from the villains and tries to call for help. He yells out the window to Daredevil (who happens to be swinging by), but DD is heading for his confrontation with Namor (DD #7) and doesn’t stop. The boy radios the Baxter Building, but the Fantastic Four is currently in the Pacific being nuked by the Frightful Four. (FF #38). He also calls the Avengers, but they’re just not home (nor able to afford an answering service, apparently.)

One the one hand, these bits of continuity really do help establish the Marvel Universe as a “real” and interactive place. One the other hand, it slows down an otherwise fast-moving story for a couple of pages, leaving a glitch in the overall pacing.

In the “Tales of Asgard” backup feature, Thor and Loki are on a diplomatic mission to a King named Hymir. Loki talks Hymir into forcing Thor to accept a pair of challenges, with Thor having to accept eternal slavery if he fails. The first challenge is to catch a single fish from the Sea of Eternal Darkness (where the fish happen to be really, really big). The second challenge is to break an enchanted, unbreakable goblet. Thor manages to accomplish both tasks, of course.

I have been regularly raving about Jack Kirby’s art work on Thor and Tales of Asgard and I will continue to do so. But he wasn’t perfect and this story shows one of his rare miscues. Hymir’s large and ornate crown (made distinctive because it plays an important role in the story’s climax) is supposed to look impressive. But the oversized thing just looks darn silly.

Oh, well, not even the best comic book artist can be awesomely cosmic every time.


A burglar manages to get hold of Tony’s attaché case containing the Iron Man armor. He practices enough to get the hang of using it, then goes on a crime spree. Tony is forced to use his old, bulky armor when confronting him. The newer armor is better, of course, but Tony is able to think his way to a victory.

There’s an awkward dues ex machina at the end, though. The burglar knows Tony is Iron Man (he knew it was Tony’s briefcase when he stole it). But when he’s caught, the “strain was too much for him” and is simply rambles on about having invented the armor himself. How convenient.

The Captain America story marks the first modern appearance of Cap’s arch-enemy, the Red Skull. I’m thinking the decision to bring the Skull back now might have been made because Baron Zemo was killed off in the last issue of the Avengers, leaving Cap without an arch-enemy. Also, of course, the Skull is a visually dynamic character—as creepy looking as you can get.

The story itself is still set during World War II (though the Skull will eventually show up again in modern time). The Nazi is offing important army officers and also sabotages a new bomber. But Cap and Bucky soon manage to put him on the run. The Skull escapes at the end of the story, but he’ll be back next issue.

We’ll finish up May 1965 next week with visits to Giant Man, Hulk, the Avengers and the X-Men.

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