Wednesday, October 20, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1965, part 1


This story comes to an end with another issue stuffed full of slam-bang action. Reed and Sue manage to get a still mind-controlled Ben back to the Baxter Building, but Reed must then risk his best friend’s life in order to snap him free from that control. When the Frightful Four (with Johnny as a hostage) show up, Ben snaps out of a coma long enough to save the day. Medusa gets away, but the rest of the evil FF are captured.

All four members of the FF get their individual awesome moments and we get yet another moment that shows Reed will willingly give his life for Ben.

There’s a fun gag at the end—Reed calls the cops to have them pick up the captured bad guys, but the cops just dismiss him as a crank caller.

I love this issue—the whole Frightful Four trilogy, in fact, is a wonderful and perfectly balanced combination of action and characterization.

But I naturally can’t help point out one silly moment. Reed is using an experimental machine to snap Ben’s mind free from control. Ben trashes the machine, which begins to shoot too much energy through him. Reed rushes forward to help. By itself this is a great moment—the point at which we learn how much Reed cares for his best friend.

But when Sue says “Of course! The main power switch!” and saves everyone by just hitting the OFF button—well, I wanted to dope-slap Reed. You’re supposed to be a genius, Reed! Why didn’t YOU think of the darn OFF SWITCH????

Oh, well. The rest of the story is so darn cool it really doesn’t matter. In fact, the last three issues have rated a collective 9.8 on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale. Only the upcoming Galactus story rates higher.


Did I just say that Lee and Kirby produced a perfectly balanced combination of action and characterization in the FF? Well, by golly, Lee and Ditko do the same thing here on Spider Man. Scorpion escapes from jail and vows revenge on both Jameson and Spider Man. This leads to a Spidey vs. Scorpion matchup in the Daily Planet newsroom, eventually spilling outside to the rooftops and then the East River. Spidey eventually manages to outthink as well as outfight the villain.

The issue has some great humor, a lot of it centered around Jameson (who is petrified with terror while simultaneously worried about how much all the broken office furniture will cost him).

There’s also a laugh-out-loud moment involving Ned Leeds, who is back from Europe and making time with Betty again. He’s protected Betty as best he can while shouting out advice for Spidey. Spidey more or less thinks “He steals my girl and gives me advice? I’ll show him!” He charges Scorpion. The next panel shows Spidey being slammed into the wall.

Ned: “I told you to watch out for his tail!”

Spidey: “Oh, Shaddup!”

Anyway, I think by this point Stan and Steve must have been planning to have Betty fade out of the picture as they introduce Gwen Stacy. Once again, it’s curious to note how well Stan Lee is handling the romantic sub plots here (and in FF) while they are still so awkward and annoying in Iron Man and Daredevil.


The action begins moving along fast and furious. Several SHIELD agents give their lives trying to get a microfilm to SHIELD headquarters, which provides the exact location of the launching site of Hydra’s “Betatron bomb” (powerful enough to allow them to blackmail the world into submission one it’s in orbit).

But Hydra gets the microfilm back and this chapter ends with the bomb being launched.

The whole microfilm sequence, in which SHIELD agents get killed one by one while passing the film off to each other, is very well done. We also learn that two former Howling Commandos—Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones—are working for SHIELD now also. Dum Dum is an especially welcome addition to the cast; he’s always been a particularly likeable big lug.

We also find that there some dysfunctional family relationships involving the masked, as-yet-unidentified leader of Hydra. He wants to conquer the world to give his beautiful daughter “everything,” but all she wants is to be a normal girl. It’s perhaps a bit too corny, but Stan and Jack will do a pretty good job playing it out.

Dr. Strange, meanwhile, attempts to mind probe the Ancient One (who is still in a coma) to find out what the deal is with Eternity. It’s a nifty sequence, with Strange having to penetrate a succession of mind traps the Ancient One has set up to protect himself while not actually fighting back and hurting his mentor. Ditko’s visuals here are particularly effective.

Finally, Strange gets into the A.O.’s head and convinces him of his identity. The old guy tells him where to find Eternity (we poor readers are not yet told why this is important) and Strange ends the issue by traveling through a gateway to yet another strange dimension.

That’s it for this time. Next week, we’ll take a look at the Thunder God, the Armored Avenger and the Shield Slinger.

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