Wednesday, August 18, 2010
History of the Marvel Universe: July 1965, part 1
The powerless Fantastic Four fights there way into the Baxter Building from the ground floor up, with Reed thinking their way past the various defenses that Doctor Doom has turned against them. It’s a great action scene, not just in terms of choreography, but also in characterization. Reed’s still the smartest guy in the room, whether or not he has a super power. And the others all trust him implicitly.
Meanwhile, Daredevil swings in through a window and confronts Doom man-to-man. He manages to hold his own for a little bit, but he’s pretty much beaten by the time the FF reach the same floor. Just has he was out of his league a few months earlier when he fought Namor. Poor Matt seems to be going through a phase where powerful opponents get to beat the snot out of him.
Anyway, Reed reaches the same Stimulator gun that he used on the Skrull world three issues earlier, giving the four heroes their powers back again.
That begs the question of why he didn’t use the device in the first place. Ben actually asks him about that. Reed explains that he had to wait a few more days for the batteries to recharge. That’s perfectly acceptable, but I have the feeling that Stan and Jack sandwiched that explanation in hastily when they realized it was a noticeable plot hole. That’s just an impression I get from the panel layouts, but I’d bet money on it being true.
It’s not a big deal—the Stimulator is a legit comic book-science invention. But it does mean that Reed kept his friends in a near-panic for several days trying to fake their powers when he could have told them everything would soon be back to normal.
Back to the story—this all leads up to one of Stan and Jack’s finest moments. Reed uses the Stimulator on a reluctant Ben to turn him back into the Thing. “He may hate me forever, but we need his strength at this moment!” Enraged, Ben now goes one-on-one against Doom, charging through Doom’s various attacks through sheer stubbornness and tearing about the villain’s armor. Doom, his pride shattered, whimpers back to Latveria.
Ben, though, is still mad at—well, pretty much everybody. Embittered with being forced back into his monstrous form, he quits the team and storms off. Ben has in many ways become the heart of the team—thus this whole sequence carries a lot of sincere emotional weight.
I actually like the Peter Parker stuff in this issue better than the Spider Man stuff. He has a fight with Betty over Mary Jane (Betty met M.J. in the last issue and doesn’t believe Peter has never actually seen her.)
Mad about this, he loses his temper at school when Flash Thompson picks on him. He jumps Flash and his cronies, almost giving away his super powers. He also gets in trouble with the principal.
Here’s the really cool part: After Peter is chewed out by the principal, Flash steps up to admit that the incident was his fault. We've gotten hints of Flash’s hidden decency before—this is the most overt example of it. Eventually, Flash does a hitch in the army and, when he rejoins the cast in later years, he and Peter become friends. He essentially matures out of his “big bully” phase. Bits like this make that transformation believable.
Of course, the Spider Man stuff is still pretty good. A masked man named the Crime Master is trying to organize all the mobs under his command, muscling out the Green Goblin (who has the same plan) along the way. Spider Man suspects Frederick Foswell, the Bugle reporter with a criminal record, of being the Crime Master. The story hints that this might be true, but in such a way that we can’t be sure. It’s a very well-constructed plot.
On top of this, Peter is forced to use a Spidey costume he had bought in a costume shop, holding the ill-fitting costume in place with his webbing. But this proves advantageous when the Goblin manages to capture Spidey—the villain can’t get the webbed-on mask off.
The issue ends with the Crime Master meeting with a small army of mobsters at the waterfront—and the Goblin arriving with an unconscious Spider Man to claim he should be in charge.
Johnny and Ben go out on a pretty good note—ending the Human Torch series with a solid little story.
The two are hanging out at the Baxter Building when the Watcher shows up, explaining that he doesn’t usually get involved, but the whole world will be destroyed if he doesn’t step in.
I’m pretty sure this is the first time the Watcher gets actively involved, something he’ll do frequently in subsequent issues of the Fantastic Four. In fact, we’re only eight months away from his most important instance of helping mankind when he warns the FF about Galactus.
For now, he’s warning the FF about Kang, who has gone back in time to the days of King Arthur, imprisoned Merlin and taken over the throne. His intent is to both conquer medieval Earth and change history enough so that all his 20th Century enemies cease to exist.
The Watcher sends Ben and Johnny back to stop him, which involves Ben going at it alone against an army of knights while Johnny springs Merlin from the slammer. Kang is defeated, though he manages to make a getaway in his time ship.
With the world safe, Ben and Johnny are returned to the present, where Reed lectures them for just lounging about doing nothing while he was out.
As I said, a good ending to the series.
This, by the way, is the second Merlin we meet. The first was a powerful mutant that spent centuries in suspended animation and then awoke to battle Thor in modern times. This was in Journey into Mystery #96.
But the Merlin here is the real one. We’d eventually get a retcon (in an issue of X-Men, I believe) that would peg the mutant as an imposter that the real Merlin placed in suspended animation.
Meanwhile, Dr. Strange returns to Earth following last issue’s side adventure. He visits the Ancient One (still in a coma) and learns the old guy is mumbling “You must find… Eternity” every so often.
But before Strange can find Eternity (or even before he can figure out what the heck Eternity means), he’s found and attacked by Mordo once again. They have a running battle across and through the Earth while in ectoplasmic form.
Strange gets some help from Clea (though she is still actually unnamed), who sabotages the barrier that keeps the Mindless Ones out of Dormammu’s dimension. This forces Dormammu to withdraw the power he’s given Mordo to battle the Mindless Ones. This, in turn, allows Strange to drive off Mordo.
The issue ends with Strange determined to figure out what “find Eternity” means so that he can definitively beat Mordo and Dormammu.
Ditko’s art continues to shine with his knack for creating inter-dimensional landscapes, weird creatures and the visual effects of magic spells. Stan Lee continues to shine in his storytelling and pacing—proving once more to be a master of the serial format.
That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll peek in on Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.