Wednesday, September 8, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1965, part 1


The FF continues on a roll of superb stories. Picking up from last issue, Ben is still angry and bitter about being turned back into the Thing. He storms away and—because he’s exhausted from his fight with Doom—is easily captured by the Wizard and the rest of the Frightful Four.

The Wiz then brainwashes Ben and turns him against the rest of the FF. The issue ends with Ben apparently about to kill a helpless Reed.

There’s a great fight scene set in the deserted mansion the Frightful Four is using as a headquarters, but it’s the characterizations that continue to carry this story along. We really feel for Ben and we really appreciate that his “family” cares for him.

There’s several other nice touches to the story. When Reed, Sue and Johnny leave the Baxter Building to search for Ben, they use one of Johnny’s hot rods. Remember, after all that the Fantasticar was trashed by Doom a few issues back. Events have unfolded non-stop since then, so there’s been no chance to repair it. It’s a nice nod to continuity and a reminder to the readers that our heroes have been constantly on the go without a chance to rest.

We also get a few hints that Medusa isn’t as bad as the other villains. We are, in fact, just a few issues away from learning her origin and meeting the Inhumans.


The meat of this issue is an absolutely wonderful fight scene in which Spidey, still chained after having been captured last issue, nonetheless manages to take on a mob of… well, mobsters. A trio of cops show up to help and Spidey finally breaks the chains, but then the cheap knock-off of his costume once again starts to come loose at the gloves and boots at annoying moments.

Despite this, the mobsters are subdued. Green Goblin flies away and the Crime Master ducks down into the sewers. Spidey pursues, but the villain manages to getaway.

Peter is certain that the Crime Master is Frederick Foswell, the ex-con reporter. He even confronts him directly, but it turns out Foswell has actually been investigating the mob and tipping off the cops. When the police manage to catch the Crime Master and are forced to shoot him, he turns out to be a mobster that Peter never even heard of.

It’s a very well-constructed tale with a nice ironic twist at the end. And we get a cool epilogue as well: Peter finally accepts that he has to sew himself a new costume (there’s a great panel showing him trying to thread a needle), but he puts this off to take his Aunt May to the movies after he notices she is feeling a bit lonely. This brings things to an end with a pleasant and very human moment.


Nick Fury was first introduced into the Marvel Universe via his World War II book Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. (By the way, I didn’t include that book in this series only because I don’t have access to inexpensive reprints.) He was cemented in as part of modern continuity when a young Reed Richards guest-starred in the series. His entry into modern-day stories was in Fantastic Four #21, when he popped up as a colonel now working for the CIA, recruiting the FF’s help against an insurgency in a South American country.

Now he appears again, sporting an as-yet unexplained eye patch. (We eventually find out in a Sgt. Fury issue that this is a delayed effect from a wound he suffered in the war.) He’s still a colonel working now for military intelligence, but he’s about to get an interesting job offer.

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD is obviously a reaction to the success of the James Bond-inspired superspy craze. And it’s a good one. Jack Kirby has fun tossing in a flying car and other high tech gadgets. He dreams up what might be the single most fun vehicle in the history of comics and science fiction—the gigantic helicarrier, which would be SHIELD’s flying headquarters. I’m pretty sure this is also the first appearance of L.M.D.s. (Life Model Decoys—robot doubles of real people that will pop up relatively often in the Marvel Universe.)

The short, fast-moving story also does a good job of defining Nick’s character. He’s told about the evil secret organization called Hydra and offered the job leading the fight against them. But he at first doesn’t think he’s the right man for the job—“I’m just a three-striper (a sergeant) at heart,” he says, uncertain that he can adjust to all this sci-fi stuff. But when someone tries to blow up the helicarrier, he instinctively takes charge and makes sure the saboteur is tracked down. So he ends up in command despite himself.

It’s a nice touch, dropping a front-line brawler into a James Bond world. It does give the series an individuality that separates it from Bond, Man from UNCLE, I Spy and other contemporaneous spy shows.

A note about Fury’s age. In 1965, Nick could have been in his 40s and—if he kept in shape despite his perpetual cigar smoking—then it’s still acceptable for him to be an action hero. But as years go by, an explanation for his relative youth would have to be given. He’s too deeply tied into World War II to alter that. So Nick—we learn in later years—would have once been the subject of a medical experiment that slows his aging process down. Other veterans of the Howlers (Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones) will also join SHIELD and be around for decades. I’m not sure if their agelessness is also explained, but what the heck. They’re fun characters and we wouldn’t want to lose them to the nursing home anyways.

Leaving the super science spy stuff behind for the pure mystical: Dr. Strange goes to England to visit Sir Baskerville, a former disciple of the Ancient One who might know about Eternity. But Baskerville is now working for Mordo.

Strange, though, soon suspects a trap and manages to trick pretty much everybody, escaping from Baskerville’s home without a trace. It’s another well-written chapter, with Strange pulling off several really cool stunts to fool his opponents.

Meanwhile, Dormammu has figured out that Clea (she’s still unnamed at this point, though) was responsible for releasing the Mindless Ones last issue and distracting him from helping Mordo. Things look grim for the extra-dimensional beauty.

That’s it for now. Next week, we turn again to Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

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