Wednesday, November 10, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: 1965 Annuals


Like most guys, when I’m forced to attend a wedding, I always end up wishing that I could sneak a book in with me to have something interesting to do while that whole wedding thing is going on. I appreciate a guy and a girl falling in love and committing themselves to one another for the rest of their lives. But, let’s face it. You’re all boring.

But, by golly, Reed and Sue’s wedding is actually interesting! Why? Because Doctor Doom uses an Emotion Charger ray to get pretty much all the villains in the Marvel Universe riled up to attack the Baxter Building just before the ceremony. And I don’t mean just the Fantastic Four’s usual enemies. I mean EVERYBODY. Even the Black Knight and the Human Top show up to cause trouble.

Fortunately, the wedding guests include the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Avengers and Daredevil. And there are SHIELD agents running security.

A massive free-for-all ensues. There’s really not a lot of plot here—it’s all an excuse for Jack Kirby to show everybody fighting, well, everybody else. And it all looks more fun than a barrel of space monkeys.

Why can’t more wedding be like this? I wouldn’t mind going to one if we get to see Angel in a dogfight with the Black Knight or Ben Grimm stuffing an armful of Moloids back down their hole.

Oh, well. Reed spoils everything when the Watcher gives him a time distortion device that pretty much re-sets everything and makes Dr. Doom forget about his Emotion Charger. The wedding then proceeds normally. It was fun while it lasted, though.


An evil magician named Xandu hypnotizes a couple of thugs, turning them into super-strong automaton. He then uses them in a surprise attack against Doctor Strange, stealing a mystic artifact that will make him all powerful.

Spider Man sees the thugs exiting Strange’s home and gets involved. This leads to him getting zapped into another dimension (a situation he accepts with remarkable aplomb—he doesn’t pause in his wisecracking for even a moment). Anyway, Spidey and Doctor Strange end up double-teaming Xandu and getting the artifact back.

Steve Ditko had proven to be the perfect artist for both Spider Man and Dr. Strange, despite the books being very different in their respective ambiances. So seeing him go to town in a story that tosses the two heroes together is quite a treat.


The FF annual was an excuse for a massive fight scene. The Thor annual is an excuse for a one-on-one fight scene, but it’s just as cool.

Thor is on patrol outside Asgard and gets into a tussle with a couple of storm giants. He gets knocked into a hidden tunnel that leads to Mount Olympus. He soon meets Hercules, who is crossing a narrow bridge in one direction while Thor is crossing the other way.

So who moves aside for whom? You can see where this is leading—the two gods spend eight or nine pages slugging it out before Zeus shows up and declares it a tie. It no longer matters, by the way, who crosses the bridge first, because the bridge got trashed in the fight.

One of Jack Kirby’s strength as an artist was giving a sense of real power whenever someone threw a punch. When Thor or Herc lets go with a haymaker, Kirby makes it look as if the blow really could tear the top off a mountain. So it’s not surprising that his Thor/Hercules fight is fun to watch. It’s just too bad there wasn’t a wedding going on in Olympus. It would have given all the poor guys attending something interesting to look at.

Anyway, this means we have now covered four full years of Marvel superhero action. At this moment, all the books are at least good and several of them (FF, Thor, Spider Man) are downright brilliant. Weak entries such as Giant Man have been replaced by stronger and more visual striking series such as the Sub-Mariner. Daredevil is probably the weakest book from 1965, but even he has his moments (such as the Daredevil/Namor fight in DD #7).

The Marvel Universe is getting quite large and complex. And it will be expanding even more soon. The FF is about to meet the Inhumans and Spider Man is on the verge of adding several very important supporting characters to his cast. The Galactus storyline in FF will be starting soon, while the God of Thunder is about to be dropped into some of his most cosmically cool adventures ever.

Next week, we’ll start looking at November 1965. The FF begin yet another superb multi-part adventure; Spider Man tracks down a cat burgler; Nick Fury gets captured; Dr. Strange finally meets Eternity; Thor continues to battle Absorbing Man, while Iron Man continues to battle Titanium Man; the Atlantians revolt against Krang; Hulk gets some good news and some bad news; the Avengers try to prove they're not a menace; and the X-Men have their first tussle against a certain type of giant robot.

By the way, starting with December 1965, both the X-Men and Daredevil become monthly books. That means I’ll probably be reorganizing the order in which I look at the books over the course of a month’s issues.

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