Wednesday, January 19, 2011
History of the Marvel Universe: February 1966, Part 1
Lots of action once again, as the FF subdue the Dragon Man, save Triton’s life and trail the Inhumans back to the Great Refuge—their hidden city in the Andes.
Black Bolt and his posse have returned their as well. Black Bolt grabs his crown back from his tyrannical brother Maximus, but Max still has plans to use his “atmo-gun” to conquer humankind. The issue ends with him firing off this weapon.
All through this fast-moving and well-paced adventure, there’s a lot of nice character moments of the sort that make the Fantastic Four stand out from the superhero crowd. There’s still a bit of a false note regarding how quickly Johnny and Crystal have fallen for each other, but moments between Reed and Sue and between Ben and Alicia are handled very nicely. (Though Sue pausing to change her hair style in the middle of a DANGEROUS MISSION is just a bit stereotypical.)
Alicia shows up for a few panels during the fight with Dragon Man, when the giant beastie (with Ben hanging on to him for dear life) crashes through the wall to her apartment/studio. This sort of thing actually happens a lot to poor Alicia. In fact, in a couple of issues, a stunned Silver Surfer is going to crash through her window. This is proof that Alicia must be a very successful artist. How else could she possibly afford what must be astronomical insurance premiums?
Spider Man is a great character and—despite the perhaps irrevocable character derailment he’s undergone in regular Marvel continuity over the past few years—there have been any number of truly great stories throughout his history. So it’s arguable to name a single story to designate as THE best. All the same, I’m tempted to do that here. This very well may be the Ur-Spidey story—the one that perfectly defines who the character is within the framework of an exciting and well-constructed Spider Man story.
Spidey is still trapped under tons of debris and seems doomed. But he refuses to give up—knowing that to do so would also doom the person he most cares for in the world. So he goes into overdrive. Actually, since he spent most of the last issue in overdrive, it’s probably more accurate to say he goes into over-overdrive.
In a truly exciting action sequence, he frees himself from the debris, survives getting swept up in a junk-filled flood as Doc Ock’s underwater base floods, then fights a dozen or so minions. And, though he’s bruised, beaten and teetering on total exhaustion, he wins. He gets the element needed to make the life-saving serum to Doctor Connors, then rushes the serum to the hospital in the nick of time. Aunt May is saved.
There’re a few nice character moments as well. Betty sees Peter bruised—his cover story is that he got mixed up in a fight while taking photographs. This causes Betty to realize she can’t handle a relationship with someone who is always taking risks. Then there’s a great scene with Jameson. Peter is in no mood to take any guff from the newsman and demands a good price for the photos. He gets enough to cover May’s medical bills, but doesn’t realize that Jonah still paid him less than the photos are worth.
It’s pretty much a perfect story. It really should seem corny, but it doesn’t. The character beats for Peter are perfect from the first panel to the last. Ditko’s art and action choreography has never been better. It really may be the best Spider Man story ever.
Doctor Doom decides to kidnap the Avengers and use them as bait to lure the Fantastic Four into a trap. So he sends a letter to Wanda and Pietro, claiming to be from a long-lost relative who knows who their parents are.
Actually, by the time the siblings’ origins are retconned a few times over the years, they are going to end up being sorry to find out who their daddy really is. But for now, it’s off to Latveria to meet the relative. Cap and Hawkeye tag along AND NOT ONE OF THEM REMEMBERS THAT LATVERIA IS RULED BY DOCTOR DOOM UNTIL AFTER THEY GET THERE. Gee whiz. Don’t Avengers ever read a newspaper or watch the evening news? Did Cap ever pop over the Germany during World War II to only then think “Oh, that’s right. Hitler’s in charge here, isn’t he?”
Oh, well. Other than that undeniably silly moment, the story is pretty good. To escape Latveria, the Avengers have to defeat Doom. After two successive encounters, they manage to do just that, making their getaway at the end. The battles are fun ones, with the four heroes working together smoothly to come out on top.
Next week, we’ll look at one of Dr. Strange’s finest moments, along with peeks at Nick Fury, Daredevil and the X-Men.