Wednesday, July 21, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1965, Part 3

TALES TO ASTONISH #67


Giant Man only has three stories to go (including this one) before being replaced by the Sub Mariner. Sadly, he continues to go out on a lame note. His butt-ugly new costume design doesn’t help at all. Nor does the unmemorable villain--a mysterious masked man with a ray gun that allows him to steal knowledge and super powers from others. Nor does the awkward and clich├ęd ending—the villain is from another planet and gets caught by his fellow aliens at the end, who conveniently undo all the damage he’s done.



The Hulk story is much better. As with Dr. Strange, Stan Lee continues to use the serial format to strong effect. The green guy trashes the Russian armored column that confronted him last issue, then takes several cross-country hops until he ends up in the Himalayas. Once there, he turns back into Banner and gets captured by a gang of bandits.



They contact the U.S. to ask for ransom. Major Talbot is assigned to take the ransom to the bandits. But when a rival bandit gang attacks, Talbot and Banner make a break for it. The issue ends, though, with the two falling off a cliff during their getaway.



This is Steve Ditko’s last issue as artist for the Hulk. Jack Kirby takes over the title on the next issue. I love the art of both men, but Kirby handles images of raw power a little better, so the change will be a good one.


AVENGERS #16:


It’s a good month for awkward dues ex machinas. When the last issue ended, the Avengers were confronting the Masters of Evil and worrying about all the nearby innocent bystanders. Thor simply whips up a dimensional warp with his hammer, carrying the good guys along with Melter and the Black Knight into another dimension. The laws of physics are different enough to prevent the villains’ weapons from working properly, so they’re easily defeated.


That bit is awkward and anti-climatic, but the rest of the issue is classic and important. Thor has to leave for the Trial of the Gods he’s currently undergoing in his own book. Iron Man, Giant Man and Wasp all realize they need a break and decide to take a leave of absence from the Avengers.


That leaves just Captain America and three brand-new members. All three have been sort-of bad guys who want to get off to a clean new start: Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. (Hawkeye, by-the-way, explains that he finally decided to turn over a new leaf after the Black Widow was badly wounded by a Russian assassin. Her fate is left up in the air for the time being.)



It’s a nice line-up with a respectable variety of powers (though less raw power). I don’t know if I’ve ever read exactly why Stan Lee opted to change the line up so dramatically, dropping a couple of popular characters in favor of less-well-known ones. But in terms of good storytelling, the change is a good one. We’ve got some pretty strong tales coming up in future issues.


X-MEN #11:


This story actually takes place just before the Avengers tale, since we see the events that help convince Pietro and Wanda to quit Magneto’s group.


Professor X and Magneto race to contact what both initially believe to be a very powerful mutant. But the Stranger is really a cosmically powerful alien who is collecting examples of mutated creatures from various worlds. Magneto has the bad luck to contact the Stranger first. The end result: Mastermind is turned into a statue while Magneto and Toad are carried off as prisoners to another planet. As mentioned already, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch pretty much just up and quit.


The threat of Magneto seems to be gone for good. Yeah, right. In a comic book universe, no threat is ever gone for good. But Stan and Jack seem to have decided that the X-Men book needed a break from Magneto for a time. They were probably right. Though a great villain, he has been the main antagonist in 6 out of 11 issues. The X-Men really needed to expand their Rogue’s Gallery. They’ll begin that in their next issue, when the X-Mansion gets attacked by Juggernaut.


There’s a couple of nice details in this issue. Hank gets some particularly good one-liners. A confrontation between the X-Men and the Brotherhood takes place under circumstances that don’t give Cyclops time to change into costume, so he takes part in the fight wearing a suit and tie. For no particularly good reason at all, I think that was a nice visual touch.


That’s it for May. In June 1965, a powerless FF fight Doctor Doom; J. Jonah Jameson personally (well, sort of) fights Spider Man; Johnny and Ben get attacked by an…art exhibit?; Dr. Strange gets caught between a good sister and an evil sister; Thor tries to prove that Loki is a big cheater; Iron Man goes for a swim; Captain America gets brainwashed; Giant Man is attacked by an old enemy; the Leader makes another try to capture the Hulk; the new Avengers fight an old enemy; and Daredevil battles a villain who’s so lame it makes him cool.

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