Wednesday, January 5, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1966, part 2


Dormammu sticks Strange, the Ancient One and Mordo in a neutral dimension, then summons the rulers of neighboring dimensions to watch him humiliate his arch enemy in single combat. He also forces Clea (who is still actually unnamed at this point) to watch through a dimensional portal.

What follows is the first half of one of the niftiest battles ever seen between the covers of a comic book. Strange and Dormammu each put “pincers of power” on their wrists—devices that extend out in sort of mystical claws. They then go to town in one-on-one combat. Strange uses judo tactics and pure courage to slowly gain the upper hand. So Mordo, in a panic that his evil master might lose, zaps Strange in the back.

The whole issue is a visual delight, setting up this long serial for a satisfying ending next issue.

Back on Earth, Nick manages to hook up with the SHIELD strike force and—despite a counter-attack by Hydra troopers on motorized skate boards—the good guys defeat the bad guys. In the meantime, Tony Stark pilots the Braino-saur into orbit and disarms the orbital nuke.

Hydra is beaten--or is it? The Hydra leader ends the issue intending to press a self-destruct button, taking out Fury, the SHIELD team and his traitorous daughter.

We see the Hydra boss unmasked for the first time. In previous issues, we had been shown a tyrannical corporate CEO who was presumably Hydra’s leader. But it turns out to be his meek secretary. Not really that surprising a twist, since the CEO practical wore a sign around his neck that said “Red Herring.” But the overall storytelling is pretty strong. The SHIELD vs. Hydra gun battle was certainly intense, with both sides taking losses before the end.


Jack Kirby’s return to the title combines with getting Matt out of New York and away from his godawful contrived love triangle to really reinvigorate this title. It’s all the more fun after several weak stories in a row.

Matt takes a cruise, but the ship is attacked by a pirate named the Plunderer. This guy (real name: Percival Plunder) dresses and talks like a traditional pirate and sails what appears to be an old-fashioned schooner. But that little ship is rigged with high-tech options (including the ability to transform into a submarine. Holy Cybertron!) and his crew is equipped with ray guns. He’s clearly nuts, but his crew is too scared of him to raise a stink about a little thing like sanity.

Daredevil gives the pirates a run for their money, but he’s forced to surrender when Plunder threatens to force a passenger to walk the plank. Impressed with Daredevil’s fighting skill, Plunder presses him into his crew, then takes his submersible ship through an underwater tunnel to his secret base in the dinosaur-infested Savage Land.

Once there, the pirates are jumped by Ka-Zar and the saber-tooth tiger Zabu (both introduced a few months back in X-Men). Another tussle ensues in which Daredevil is badly injured. Ka-Zar takes him to a cave, then leaves to find some healing herbs. But the issue ends with Ka-Zar about to be eaten by a carnivorous plant while a savage ape-man stalks the unconscious Daredevil.

Pirates and dinosaurs together. That by itself gives this story a 9.2 on the Bogart/Karloff scale. The whole fast-moving story is simply entertaining.

Of course, those of us familiar with Marvel characters will know that Plunder is also Ka-Zar’s real family name, but readers in 1966 didn’t know that. They’d be finding out in the next issue, though, when Ka-Zar’s origin is revealed.

X-MEN #16

The X-Men try an unsuccessful escape from the Sentinels, Professor X figures out how to jam the signal powering most of the big robots and Professor Trask decides to sacrifice his life to blow up Master Mold and prevent more Sentinels from ever being built.

Of course, there will eventually be more Sentinels built—the idea behind them and their cool visual design guarantee that they’ll become a regular part of the Marvel Universe. But for now, the original Sentinel trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion. The action flows along smoothly while allowing in a few nice character moments—perhaps the most important being Iceman (the youngest of the X-Men) realizing that he has earned the respect of his teammates.

Next week will bring (among other things) more giant robot action as we visit with Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Prince Namor.

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