Wednesday, October 6, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1965, part 2

Okay, it's a good rule of thumb in a comic book universe never to put a captured supervillain to work in the prison machine shop. If you do, he'll inevitably cobble together a hideous weapon or escape device out of bits of scrap metal and duct tape. It's a rule ignored by far too many prison wardens in both the Marvel and DC universes, but it's a good rule.

So an equally good version of that rule is not to put an evil MAGIC USER to work in a MAGICIAN'S work shop. Say, like Odin does to Loki as punishment. Because if you do, Loki might--I don't know--whip up a suspended animation potion to knock out the court magician and then start plotting against Odin and Thor yet again.

Odin the All-Knowing doesn't quite get that though. Oh, well.

Actually, I shouldn't start out by making fun of what really is a good issue. But I can't help it this time around, so I'll continue to do so.

Thor stops off at the steel mills in Pittsburgh to repair his damaged hammer, then returns to Asgard with the Norn Stones, thus proving Loki cheated in the Trial of the Gods. But he carelessly drops one of the stones before leaving Earth. That's going to come back to bite him in his noble butt. Apparently, neither Thor nor Odin can include COUNTING in their respective skill sets, so they don't notice the shortage.

In the meantime, he returns to Earth to discover Jane has gone missing. But before he can really search for the most-kidnapped girl in Marveldom, Loki zaps the Absorbing Man back to Earth to confront the Thunder God.

It's a slower paced issue than usual, but it stays interesting throughout and serves to set up several plot points for future issues before effectively ending on a cliffhanger. So I really shouldn't be making fun of it.  Yes, the plot holes I point out are plot holes, but they don't really mar the overall solid storytelling.

The "Tales of Asgard" feature has the flying Viking ship take off on its mission, giving us glimpses into the personalities of Volstagg (who hides so that his shrewish wife doesn't see him aboard) and Hogun (who wordlessly--um, shall we say--"discourages" one of Loki's minions from causing trouble.


The sadistic head of a Communist work camp has plans to better himself. To this end, he forces some scientists to design and build a “Titanium Man” suit, then he publically challenges Iron Man to a fight in a neutral country.

Tony’s worried because the chest plate that keeps his heart beating has been acting up. But America can’t lose face by having Iron Man chicken out, so he patches up the chest plate and accepts the challenge.

There’s still too much time spent listening to Tony’s and Happy’s respective whining over Pepper Potts, but it’s still a good story. It builds suspense nicely until the start of the fight, ending with a cliffhanger when it turns out Titanium Man cheated by rigging land mines around the battle area.

Titanium Man isn’t notable in terms of personality—he’s pretty much a stereotypical Commie tyrant. But his visual—a bulkier, larger armored suit—it an effective counterpoint to Iron Man.

Jumping back a couple of decades to World War II, Captain America also begins a multi-part story. Steve Rogers’ Ranger battalion is sent on a raid across the English Channel. Bucky stays behind, but is lured into a trap and captured by the Red Skull’s men. The plan is to bring him to a castle in occupied territory, where a scientist will shrink him down with his newly invented Z-Ray. It seems an unnecessarily complex plan—once you’ve captured Bucky, why not just shoot him? But the rest of the story is entertaining and fast-moving enough to make you overlook this.

It’s fun to see Steve fighting as a soldier along side other G.I.s. But when he finds a German radio message telling him Bucky has been captured, he goes AWOL. As Captain America, he hijacks a German bomber as it takes off (this sequence is particularly exciting) and flies off to rescue Bucky. But he doesn’t know that his Ranger battalion is about to get jumped by a Panzer division.

The story is very skillfully constructed. It’s certainly action-packed, but it also passes on a lot of exposition. The competing action scenes (Bucky lured into a trap in England and the Rangers fighting in France) are woven together with scenes at the scientist’s castle, where we learn that he’s a non-German traitor with a sister who wants to remain loyal to the Allies. Great stuff and yet another example of how good Stan Lee was getting at serial storytelling.

Next week, we’ll finish up September 1965 with a look at Prince Namor, the Hulk, the Avengers and the X-Men.

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