Wednesday, March 9, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1966, part 1


The FF’s greatest story continues. Kirby’s hyper-imaginative visuals are once again packed into the issue from cover to cover. The fight against Galactus’ cyborg warrior (known as the Punisher—yes, there was a Punisher before Frank Castle) is magnificent; as is Kirby’s images of what the desiccated Earth would look like after Galactus drains it of water and energy.

Even the few quiet moments—such as Reed stopping for a shave and Ben for a quick bath in-between bouts with the Eater of Worlds—look great.

Anyway, our heroes try to stop Galactus and do manage to delay him a bit. In the meantime, the Watcher sends Johnny off on an inter-dimensional journey to get a super-weapon.

And then there’s what I can’t help thinking of as a minor glitch (the incident that subtracts a tenth of a point from the Bogart/Karloff Coolness rating). The Silver Surfer, belted off the Baxter Building by Ben last issue, just happens to fall through the skylight of Alicia’s apartment. What follows is Alicia’s verbal defense of humanity, which causes the Surfer to undergo an epiphany and switch sides. Even though coincidences like that are common in comic books, both it and the whole Alicia/Surfer scene are just a little bit heavy-handed.

At least in my none-too-humble opinion. Then again, I’m not bothered by the coincidence of Galactus coming to Earth, where he just happens to land atop THE FREAKIN’ BAXTER BUILDING! I’m sincerely not bothered by that at all. Go figure.


The Molten Man is out of prison. He’s disguising himself before pulling off robberies, but Spidey manages to track him down regardless. As usual, Ditko choreographs a wonderful fight—this one with an unusual twist for a Spider Man battle. At one point, there’s a page-and-a-half in which the two adversaries trade punches. There’s no dialogue—just sound effects and art work that really manages to convey a sense of power to each blow.

The story is nicely paced, including an emphasis on Peter having to tail Molten Man for several days before getting the evidence needed to prove he’s guilty.

The story ends with Peter finding out that Betty Brant has left town. She’s out of the picture for a few years now. Gwen Stacy will now be the main girl in Peter’s life.

Gwen actually isn’t in this issue (she’ll play a big part in next month’s issue), but it’s interesting to look at her personality so far. She’s basically a drop-dead gorgeous dame who knows she’s drop-dead gorgeous. (Though, as much as I like Ditko’s art, it’s John Romita, Sr. who will really make her gorgeous.) So far, her biggest problem with Peter is that he hasn’t hit on her like every other boy she’s met.

Before too many more issues come and go, Mary Jane Watson will come onto the scene and take over that particular dynamic. Gwen will evolve into the sweet girl-next-door type.


The Fixer and Mentallo have taken over SHIELD headquarters and have strapped Nick to an H-bomb. There’s a rare bit of contrived writing at this point when the bad guys take the mental control mask off Nick after they’ve strapped him to the bomb. Why they would give up one of their aces in the hole is not explained.

But the rest of the story is still good. Tony Stark tosses together some new weapons and Nick (who is secretly wearing a “mental transmitter”) sends coded mental instructions to SHIELD’s ESP unit. Agents wearing scramble helmets counter attack, a neutralizer ray disintegrates the H-bomb and the espers bombard Mentallo with painful thought waves. The bad guys are captured.

But things are never quiet at SHIELD. The last few panels show a plane launching from the helicarrier on a secret mission, only to be destroyed by a oddly shaped aircraft. There’s yet another threat to the world out there. Not too surprising, really.

Roy Thomas takes over as writer for Dr. Strange in this issue. He and Steve Ditko give us a really nifty story in which the still-disembodied Dr. Strange gains control of his amulet and levitation cloak to help battle Mordo’s disciples. Ditko’s visuals are once again perfect for portraying magical combat, so Strange continues to look cool while putting the beat down on the bad guys and finally getting his body back.

What with Stan Lee gone as writer (and Ditko around for only a few more issue), this seems like a good point to call it quits for Strange Tales. We will return to the title eventually—I want to cover Jim Steranko’s magnificent run on Nick Fury. But for the time being, we will be leaving both SHIELD and the Sorcerer Supreme behind.

Next week, we’ll see if we can finish up April 1966 in one fell swoop, covering the Avengers, Namor, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. We’ll still be dropping titles, but as I’ve said before, I’ll continue with the FF, Thor and Spidey for some time to come.

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