Wednesday, September 22, 2010
History of the Marvel Universe: August 1965, part 3
Well, Prince Namor hasn’t yet conquered the surface world, but at least he’s got his own comic. That’s not a bad consolation prize.
The story picks up from the moment we last saw Namor (a few months back in Daredevil #7). He’s returning to Atlantis after learning that Krang has seized his throne.
But when he gets back, Lady Dorma double-crosses him, figuring that if he doesn’t have his throne, maybe he’ll finally give her his love.
This gets Namor captured and tossed in a dungeon. He also found out that Krang has gotten himself a lot of popular support from the people of Atlantis.
Gee whiz, are the people of Atlantis genetically bred to be fickle? It seems every time we see them, they are alternately abandoning Namor, then later taking him back as King.
Dorma has the fickleness gene as well. Guilt-ridden over betraying Namor, she breaks him out of the slammer. He goes on a quest to find the long-lost Neptune’s Trident, which legends say will prove him worthy of the throne. But he soon finds himself trapped in a cave with an angry giant squid.
Stan Lee immediately embraces the serial format for this series and Adam Austin provides some strong artwork. Namor isn’t always the most likable guy in the world, but his strong personality does make him an effective protagonist.
Meanwhile, Banner is still suffering from a bullet to the head. Rick Jones steals his body and takes it to Banner’s secret lab, using the equipment there to turn him into the Hulk.
This saves Banner’s life, but he’s now stuck in Hulk form, unable to revert to Banner without dying. But he also now has Banner’s brain, so he’s able to whip up a chemical formula that will prevent him from reverting to human form.
The Leader, meanwhile, is having a bad day, since the Absorbatron was destroyed in the last issue. So he comes up with a plan to build a super weapon of his own, use it to destroy an American base, sell it to the Russians, then use the money he gets to fund his own plans for world conquest. Gee whiz, being a super villain can get complicated sometimes.
His super weapon is a Godzilla-sized humanoid. General Ross sends several volleys of missiles at the big guy, but these are ineffective. Hulk joins in the fight, not knowing that Ross is about to launch a “Sunday Punch” missile that will disintegrate what ever it hits.
Stan and Jack continue to keep the pace of their serial storytelling here at something just over the speed of light. I love it.
This, though, is the last issue with Kirby doing the full art work. He’ll still provide layouts for some time to come, but other artists will be doing the penciling. The overall quality of the art will remain high, though different artists popping up every few issues will sometimes make it seem like Bruce, Betty and others are having plastic surgery done between issues.
The Swordsman—an adventurer with a bad rep (and, it turns out, Hawkeye’s mentor from his carnival days)—shows up to demand membership in the Avengers, but gets into a fight with them instead. He gets away, now determined to destroy the team. He lures Captain America into a trap, capturing the shield-slinger and holding him hostage on a girder of a half-constructed building, threatening to do away with him unless he’s made leader of the Avengers.
The Swordsman is a good character—like Hawkeye, initially a bad guy who will one day redeem himself and become a real hero. But his plans and motivations in this initial appearance aren’t clearly defined. Also, Stan Lee depends a bit too much on coincidence (most of it involving Cap’s misplaced letter to Nick Fury, asking for a job) for the issue to be truly satisfying.
Still, the action is well-handled and, as I said, the Swordsman has potential. He’ll even start to have a noble thought or two next issue.
There’s still a lot of squabbling going on between Cap and his new teammates, but there’s a point to it all. Personal conflicts between the team members will come to a head in a few more issues. In the meantime, the arguments ironically highlight the fact that they are indeed a team—fighting together effectively despite personal feelings.
Karen (who’s secretly in love with Matt but doesn’t dare tell him) arranges for Matt (who’s secretly in love with Karen but doesn’t dare tell her) to travel to the small country of Litchenbad and see an eye specialist. Foggy (who is secretly in love with Karen but doesn’t dare tell her) hopes Matt doesn’t come back because he senses Karen is secretly in love with him (Matt), but he (Foggy) hates himself for feeling this way about his best friend.
Got all that? I wish I didn’t. Stan Lee, who handles romantic woes with humor and humanity in Spider Man and managed to build a real sense of romance between Sue and Reed in Fantastic Four, continues to stumble over cloying attempts to introduce a love story in other books.
But the action bits are still good, with Wally Wood still providing some excellent visuals. Litchenbad turns out to be a dictatorship ruled by a madman, who uses robot knights to subdue the populace. Daredevil manages to help get a rebellion started and, in the climatic battle, the dictator falls to his death.
There is one bit of really interesting characterization. Matt is actually scared at the idea of having his eyesight restored, because he doesn’t know if he’ll keep his super senses if that happens. That’s a neat little insight into Daredevil’s psyche.
Well, that’s it for August. In September, Ben continues to fight against the rest of the FF; Peter Parker graduates from high school; SHIELD fights a skirmish against Hydra; Dr. Strange visits yet another strange dimension; Thor encounters an old enemy; Iron Man encounters a new enemy; Bucky gets captured by a mad scientist; Namor fights an angry patch of seaweed; the Avengers continue to fight the Swordsman; and the X-Men continue to fight Juggernaut.