Wednesday, February 16, 2011
History of the Marvel Universe: March 1966, part 2
Mentallo and the Fixer team up, then attack SHIELD HQ. Mentallo can predict everything the defending agents will do, plus mentally detect structural weak points and hidden weapons. The Fixer can then whip out a gadget for dealing with each individual situation.
With all this going for them, they kick SHIELD butt and capture Nick. They then place a mask on Nick that’ll alter his brain waves and make him their mental slaves.
This chapter is a straightforward and exciting action tale. Kirby continues to come up with cool looking gadgetry. But, as I said a few issues back, his stuff here doesn’t look quite as cool as it does in the FF or Thor. Just my impression, of course, but I think Jack was putting a little bit less time and effort into Nick Fury to give him more time to concentrate on the other titles.
Since the SHIELD stories are still excellent (visually as well as structurally), then I’m okay with this. Jack Kirby when he was merely good was still leagues ahead of nearly any other artist.
Dr. Strange, meanwhile, detects the bomb hidden in his Sanctum and tosses it away, but the concussion still knocks him out. He’s captured by Mordo’s minions, who have no idea their boss has been banished to a far dimension by Dormammu.
Strange is locked up in a mask that keeps him from seeing or speaking and a pair of mitten-like gloves that keep him from making magical gestures. (Or any other sort of gesture—though Strange has too much class to just flip off the bad guys anyways.)
In a really nifty action sequence, Strange has to use his ectoplasmic form to awkwardly guide his physical body. He manages to knock out a couple of guards and escape the house he was held in, but his physical body is still nearly helpless and the bad guys are closing in on him.
After a couple of cool issues, the Ka-Zar story arc winds down a little bit unsatisfactorily. The art is still fine—John Romita pencils this issue. But the story jumps awkwardly between plot points without any real sense of pacing; the Plunderer adapts a supervillain costume that isn’t as cool as the pirate duds he was using; and Ka-Zar spends the whole issue in jail.
I mean, yes, it’s Daredevil’s book, so it makes sense that he gets to do most of the heroic stuff. But Ka-Zar is pretty darn cool in his own right (8.2 on the Bogart/Karloff scale), so it’s a shame to have him in a story and not have him do ANYTHING. Gee whiz.
But in the end, Daredevil helps the army capture the Plunderer and his gang while Ka-Zar is proved innocent of the murder he was accused of last issue. Matt Murdock heads home for New York, where he can once again get into an awkward love triangle with Foggy and Karen.
And that’ll be it for Daredevil. His will be the first book we drop from these reviews.
Daredevil is an important addition to the Marvel Universe, but in those early years he seems to often be odd man out in terms of getting cool stories. There have been a few high points mixed in up till now, but he will pretty much muddle along for years without ever really being exceptional. Eventually, Frank Miller will make him popular by going all dark and gritty with him. I can’t object to this, because taken on their own merits those stories are of good quality. But, in my opinion, I always thought DD went a little too far down the “dark and gritty” path. Heck, the fact that it led to that awful Ben Affleck movie is proof enough of that. And I refuse to talk about what is eventually done to poor Karen Page. That was just wrong.
But for now, we’re going to leave DD behind to muddle his way through the rest of the 1960s and most of the ‘70s with mildly entertaining but unmemorable stories. He will forever be a great character who never quite seems to find the right voice.
Along the course of this issue, we discover that Magneto busted out of the Stranger’s museum planet by salvaging an old space ship (and contemptuously kicking poor Toad out of the hatch before taking off).
Now he’s planning on scanning the DNA of Warren’s parents and using that to grow an army of mutant slaves. That actually kinda makes sense in terms of comic book science. The Worthingtons already gave birth to a mutant, so their genetic make up should produce more mutants.
With most of the X-Men floating into airless space inside a balloon, only the injured Iceman (who was still in the hospital last issue) is around to fight the villain. But Bobby does a pretty good job of holding Magneto at bay while the rest of the team think their way out of their death trap. They then gang up on Magneto until Professor X projects an illusion of the Stranger coming back to re-capture the evil mutant. Magneto pretty much runs away screaming like a little girl. Professor X mind-wipes the Worthingtons so they just remember getting a good night’s sleep (Stan Lee STILL hasn’t worked out the ethics of mental powers, it seems) and everything ends happily.
Which makes this a good place to leave off with the X-Men, I think. Stan will script one more issue, then Roy Thomas will take over. The book will remain solidly entertaining, but it never gets to be a really big seller during the 1960s and early 70s. In fact, if I remember correctly, for some years it will simply be reprinting early stories.
But then, in 1975, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum will introduce a new generation of X-Men and suddenly mutants will be the most popular thing in the Marvel Universe. We’ll eventually look at some of those storylines, as the book (done regularly by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) was quite excellent and the new X-Men were vibrant additions to the Marvel Universe. But eventually, their very popularity will hurt the quality of X-Men stories, with too many different X-titles, Wolverine’s healing power amped up to absurd levels (to the point where he wasn’t cool anymore, just silly) and the angst and tragedy taken too far over the top.
But let’s not end on a downer note. In 1966, the X-Men were pretty cool. In 1975, they’d get even cooler and stay that way for a number of years. That’s not a bad record.
So, as we leave Daredevil and the X-Men behind for now, we look forward to our visits next week with Thor, Namor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man.