Wednesday, February 9, 2011
History of the Marvel Universe: March 1966, part 1
The Inhuman story arc wraps up pretty quickly. Maximus’ anti-human death ray doesn’t work, but he’s able to activate an impenetrable force field around the Great Refuge. The FF run out of there in the nick of time, but the Inhumans are forever cut off from the rest of humanity.
Yeah, right. No addition to the Marvel Universe that cool is going to be set aside for all that long. But it gives Johnny a chance to whine about being forever separated from Crystal and then allows everyone to move on to the next story.
And what a story it is. The rest of the issue sets up the Galactus Saga, one of the single coolest story arcs in the history of storytelling. It’s a story in which Jack Kirby’s art is at its most cosmic. The plot moves at a lightning pace (the whole saga actually only lasts part of this issue, all of next issue and part of issue #50), but there’s so many nifty ideas stuffed into it that it’s amazing it doesn’t literally explode. The whole story scores a 9.9 on the Bogart/Karloff scale, missing a perfect 10 only because of a hard-to-swallow coincidence in the next issue.
We meet the Silver Surfer, for instance. Now if you try to describe the character to someone who’s not familiar with him—even someone who appreciates good fantasy and SF—he’s going to sound silly. He’s a silver guy who flies around space on a surfboard. How can that not be silly?
But Kirby makes him look awesome. He makes him look super awesome. He makes him look super awesome times infinity plus twenty-six. He’s not silly at all. He is, instead, an astounding and important addition to comic book mythology.
Anyway, the Surfer is the herald of Galactus, a super-powerful being who eats planets because… well, pretty much because he’s always hungry and a good-sized Solar System is his version of Milk Duds. (And, while we’re on the subject—Galactus and that odd hat of his should look silly as well. But Kirby, once again, makes him look awesome.)
The whole situation is so threatening that the Watcher pops up, violating his non-interference oath to help. Ben clobbers the Surfer, knocking him off the Baxter Building, but Galactus shows up anyways and prepares to chow down.
After the intense story arc that just ended, Lee and Ditko wisely give us a break. Most of this issue is a typically well-choreographed fight between Spidey and Kraven, who is back to try once more to bag the one prey that he never caught. A gang of thugs, anxious to also take out Spider Man, gets caught up in the fight. But the web-slinger—who’s back to cracking wise during fights—manages to wrap everyone up for the cops by the end.
There’s also a little bit about Betty, who is having nightmares that Peter is really Spider Man and pretty much decides she can’t take it anymore. She’s been gradually getting shoved aside to make room for Gwen and this issue is pretty much it for her for quite awhile. She’ll have left town by next issue.
Also, Peter finally figures out why everyone at college doesn’t like him, but he rather bizarrely doesn’t explain. (How hard is it to say “Sorry I was pre-occupied—the woman who raised me was on her death bed?”) This still comes across as a kind of awkward plot development, but it’ll all shake out in the wash before long. In the meantime, the issue as a whole is another good one.
Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are on a research vessel in the Atlantic, having just had a run-in with the Sub Mariner. That incident actually takes place in this month’s (and next month’s) Tales to Astonish, which we’ll be taking a look at in a couple of weeks.
Hank is busy with research, so it’s up to the Wasp to warn humanity that Namor is in another snit. But she’s captured by Attuma, who is planning on tidal-waving New York City.
She manages to get a radio message off to Avengers Mansion. Hawkeye is off ogling gorgeous dames at a night club, but Cap, Wanda and Pietro respond. The ensuing fight takes place in Attuma’s underwater base, where the humidity is so high (kept that way so the Atlanteans can breath) that the humans have trouble taking in enough oxygen to function. It’s a neat setting for a fight, giving the whole sequence a unique feel.
Anyway, things look bad for the Avengers. Back in New York, Hawkeye realizes his teammates are in trouble, but he can’t access the computer on which they would have left him a message explaining the situation. Why? Because he was goofing off when Cap briefed them on the access code.
I love that touch. It fits Hawkeye’s arrogant personality and is actually a good, believable way to show him that he has to mature.
That’s it for now. Next week, as usual, we’ll visit with Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, Daredevil and the X-Men. We’ll also come to a point where we’ll start dropping books from being regularly reviewed. I’d love to do complete Marvel reviews for a long time to come, but we are rapidly approaching the point at which I simply do not have reprints for some issues. (In fact, I have a rotten feeling I’ve already missed something from one of the several anthology books still being published at this time.)
So we will gradually (but not all at once) pare down the Marvel reviews to just the Fantastic Four, Spider Man and Thor. Those three books stay consistently awesome for several more years at least.
We’ll revisit with other titles to look at specific storylines from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, as well as taking time to look at comic books from other publishers.
Besides, we’re reached a point at which the Marvel Universe is well past its initial gestation period. Though still growing and changing, it has become a viable mecca for imaginative storytelling containing its own definable mythology. We’ve gone from one small superhero team with the creation of the FF in November 1961 to what we have now: three major teams, one superpowered monarch, a misunderstood monster, a sorcerer, a super-scientific spy organization, two important loner heroes and the solo adventures of various Avengers and ex-Avengers. The interaction and continuity between the various titles is strong, but all have their own personalities and ambiance.
In addition, after this month, Stan Lee begins to permanently pass the writing chores from some books on to others—at first, primarily to Roy Thomas. This doesn’t mean a lose in quality, since Thomas knows how to tell a fun superhero story and has a real appreciation of character history and continuity, but it does make this another logical point at which to start paring down the books.
So March 1966 will be the last time we cover every single Marvel superhero book. I will say one more time that I appreciate those of you who follow my blog. I’m open to suggestions as to what other comic books to review. I’m also open to comments such as “AHHHH!!! DON’T STOP THE CHRONOLOGICAL MARVEL REVIEWS!! THEY ARE ALL I LIVE FOR!!!!” But keep in mind that we would eventually reach a point where I simply can’t review everything anyways. If I don’t own ‘em, I can’t review ‘em.