Wednesday, January 26, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1966, Part 2


It’s a good thing comic book characters don’t usually know they are comic book characters. The good guys, at least, would probably go nuts knowing that no villain or villainous organization is ever eliminated completely.

SHIELD mops up Hydra in this issue, with the Hydra leader getting offed by his own men before he can press the self-destruct button. But Hydra isn’t gone for good. It’ll be back again. And again. And again….

Anyway, Nick also lets the leader’s daughter escape as thanks for her help. Then, without time to take a breath, he plunges into another adventure. On a trip to SHIELD’s new ESP division, he finds out a former agent with Esper abilities has gone rogue. A lot of this issue also involves an intricate jail break by a criminal inventive genius called the Fixer. The Fixer and the rogue esper (who will take the name Mentallo next issue) will be teaming up for the next story line. It’s a neat paring—the technical guy and the psychic guy. Plus, Jack Kirby really seems to have a ball taking us step-by-step through the Fixer’s prison escape using various gadgets he had built from spare parts. (Note to all wardens: For heaven sake, stop letting super-villains work in the prison machine shop!.)

Off in another dimension, Dormammu is ticked off at Mordo for interfering in the big D’s one-on-one fight against Dr. Strange. So Mordo is banished into the Dimension of Demons (which does not sound like a good thing), while Strange recovers and goads Dormammu into continuing the fight.

Playing on the powerful villain’s ego, Dr. Strange manages to outfight him and win the bout. Dormammu is forced to promise never to endanger Earth. He does get some petty revenge by banishing Clea (who is still unnamed—gee whiz, Stan, give the girl a break) to an unknown dimension.

Strange and the now healthy Ancient One return to Earth. But when Strange gets home, he’s unaware that Mordo’s minions have planted a bomb. He’s got the house rigged to detect magical threats, but something more mundane passes unnoticed. Tick, tick, tick…

This pretty much brings an exciting story arc to an end. It is, in my opinion, the best arc Dr. Strange has ever had—culminating in a multi-issue magical wrestling match that showcases Ditko’s unique and often stunning art style. Stan Lee will be writing just one more issue before passing the reins for this book onto others—most notably Roy Thomas. Dr. Strange will always be a cool character and he’ll still be in some strong stories, but we’ve finished up what I believe to be for him the best of the best.


Jack Kirby continues to supply the layouts for John Romita’s pencils as this fast-moving story continues. It’s another case where so much happens, it’s difficult to summarize briefly.

But by the end of the issue, Plunder has captured both Ka-Zar and Daredevil and brought them back to his castle in England. Ka-Zar is his long-lost brother and both of them have half of a medallion. This medallion is of a rare metal discovered by their dad that reflects energy and causes surrounding matter to disintegrate.

It’s unnamed here, but this is (I believe) the first appearance of Vibrinium in the Marvel Universe. It’s something that’s destined to become the Macguffin in countless stories.

Well, everyone pretty much has a chance to fight everyone else before the issue is over. Ka-Zar and DD get loose, but they are pursued both by spies who want the medallion and the local cops (Plunder has accused them of murder). The two heroes are being knocked for a loop by a rifle grenade in the last panel.

The art looks great and, as I mentioned last time, Kirby’s return to the book (along with Romita’s skilled pencils) seems to have reinvigorated the title. This is really exciting stuff.

There’s one some continuity error. At the beginning of the issue, Daredevil has lost his powers due to an explosion while Ka-Zar is out looking for healing herbs. Both men are captured before Ka-Zar can give the herbs to Daredevil. Later, when DD’s powers are returning, he mentally credits the herbs—despite Ka-Zar never having had a chance to give them to him.

Oh, well. It’s hardly a story-wrecking error. But it’s fun to take note of it.

X-MEN #17

Iceman, injured in the fight with the Sentinals, is in a coma. The other X-Men are getting minor injuries patched up when the Angel learns his parents are coming to the school for a visit. He flies back there to meet them, only to be captured by an unseen intruder.

Scott and Xavier head back to the school when they don’t hear from Warren—only to get captured.

Jean and Hank head back to the school when they don’t hear from Scott and the professor—only to get captured. All the prisoners are loaded into a big balloon and turned lose to drift to the upper atmosphere.

The captor turns out to be Magneto. His return is nicely times. There had been a danger of overusing him early in the book’s run, but exiling him to deep space six issues back gave us a needed break. His return is appropriately dramatic and well-handled.

Next week, we’ll see Thor enter HIS best story ever. We’ll also visit, as usual, with Namor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America.

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