Wednesday, December 1, 2010

History of Marvel Comics: November 1965, part 3


Lots of stuff going on this time. Namor manages to defeat the guardian of the Diamonds of Doom, getting one step closer to finding Neptune’s trident. The people of Atlantis rise up against Krang and seem to be winning a swift but violent civil war, but the warlord seems to have one last trick up his sleeve as he turns a mysterious dial. And Lady Dorma is at the mercy of the Faceless Ones, a horde of, well, faceless creatures.

So Namor has to choose between finishing his quest or zipping off to rescue Dorma—whose “love for me has never faltered.” Well, it actually did falter a time or two, such as when she HELPED KRANG TAKE THE THRONE FROM NAMOR. But Namor seems to have forgotten this for the moment as he opts to possibly lose his throne by saving the girl.

It’s actually a really good story, with Adam Austin continuing to provide strong art work. But the character interactions are a little bit inconsistent—both Dorma’s loyalty and the loyalties of the Atlantian people in general seem to fluctuate randomly. Perhaps Stan Lee—juggling so many serial stories at the same time—simply managed to lose track of some of the details.

Meanwhile, the Leader uses a gamma ray laser to melt the bullet lodged in Hulk’s skull. Now Hulk can revert to Banner safely, but the extra dose of gamma rays seem to have locked him in Hulk’s form permanently. He still has Banner’s mind, though the Leader doesn’t suspect that.

Feeling himself to be under obligation to the Leader, Hulk allows himself to be teleported to the Watcher’s domicile on the Moon, where he is to retrieve a sphere the Leader calls “the ultimate machine.” The Watcher greets the Hulk, but also tells him he’s free to look around. The Watcher, remember, has vowed never to interfere.

Of course, he actually interferes all the time (and is about to do so in a big way over in Fantastic Four in just a few months.) He’s also kicked people out of his house before. But the story requires him to be a bit more laid back this time, so he gives Hulk the run of his place.

But a big, scaly alien known as the “most powerful fighter in the galaxy” is also the ultimate machine. The chapter ends with the Hulk and the alien facing off against each other.

It’s another strong chapter in the serial. Jack Kirby is still doing the layouts (with Bob Powell doing the finished art), so the various machines and alien creatures decorating the Watcher’s house all look pretty cool.

It’s also interesting to note that Hulk/Banner still doesn’t have any established rules for turning back and forth between monster and human. I’d be interested to know how much of this Stan planned in advance and how much of it he just made up as he went along. Was he planning on having Banner stuck in Hulk’s body long term? Did he have the idea of finally stabilizing the conditions on what makes Banner change already in mind? Stan’s scripts are providing rollicking fun, so this isn’t a complaint, but I often wonder how far ahead he planned and how much was stream of consciousness.


Legally banned from working as a team, the Avengers all go their own way. But the job market for disgraced superheroes is a sparse one and the only work Pietro, Wanda and Hawkeye can get is working for the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. They don’t know the Circus is a crooked operation at first, but when the Ringmaster tries to hypnotize them into helping break the law, they soon catch on.

Something I commented on before—prison sentences in the Marvel Universe seem to be pretty light. It’s only been a few months since the Circus folk were all busted by Spider Man. And this probably is only a few weeks in comic book time. But they’ve already been tried and convicted, served their sentence and are back on the street.

It’s not a big deal and is actually an acceptable break from reality. There’s no reason not to reuse villains—that sort of continuity was a big part of the Marvel Universe’s appeal—and it would get old to have them break out of prison every single time.

Besides, the Ringmaster not currently being wanted allows him to falsely accuse the ex-Avengers of trying to rob him. So, after a few pages of fun fight scenes, the good guys take it on the lam.

But Captain America hasn’t given up. He manages to trick Power Man into making a taped confession of the whole “discredit the Avengers” plot. His trick is a bit contrived, but the fight scene that follows, with the three wanted Avengers showing up to help Cap team up on Power Man, is a great one, so we’ll be forgiving.

Enchantress washes her hands of the whole mess and teleports. Deprived of his hot babe, Power Man gets discouraged and surrenders. The Avengers are hailed as heroes and reinstated. (In the meantime, the cops had made the Circus of Crime crew fess up about that incident—a nice touch, since they were known criminals.) But all does not end well. Though Hawkeye and Pietro finally seem appreciative of Cap’s leadership, he’s sick of them and the issue ends as he quits.

X-MEN #14

The anti-mutant bigotry theme that runs through X-Men comics is abruptly kicked into high gear in this issue when Dr. Bolivar Trask (an eminent anthropologist) publically announces that mutants are a danger. They might at any moment use their powers to enslave mankind.

Of course, this is what Magneto and his allies had been trying to do since X-Men #1, but the issue is simplified here to make it a thematic analog to bigotry and mob rule. And that’s fine—it’s something that the better written issues of Marvel’s mutant titles have often handled quite well through the years.

Anyway, it turns out that though Trask might be a good anthropologist, he really stinks at robot design. He builds a number of giant Sentinels—destined to be one of the X-Men’s most persistent foes through the years—but they turn on him as well. They are programmed to seek out and capture mutants, but they’ve decided that they’re better than us mere humans. While the X-Men have trouble battling just one Sentinel, the others take Trask to the secret underground facility where they were constructed.

The issue ends when the X-Men are confronted outside this facility by its defensive weaponry.

I like the way the action is choreographed this time around. The X-Men are actually on vacation when Professor X encounters the Sentinels. He sends out a mental alert, but his students are all coming from different locations, so they show up singly or in pairs. It’s a trick that allows the action to build up momentum in an entertaining manner.

That’s it for this time. In December, the X-Men and Daredevil both become monthly titles, so I’ll be re-ordering the reviews slightly. Throughout that month, the FF will be meeting more of the Inhumans; Spider Man meets some important supporting characters; Nick Fury pulls of a jail break; Dr. Strange finally confronts Baron Mordo face to face; Thor and his dad defend Asgard; Iron Man fights a big android; Captain America fights a big robot; the X-Man fight a lot of giant robots; Namor attempts to rescue his lady love; Hulk finds out what the “ultimate machine” actually does; the Avengers do some time traveling; and Daredevil continues his match-up against the Organizer’s gang.

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