Wednesday, March 30, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1966, part 1


Pure Kirby goodness continues as the Silver Surfer switches sides and goes mano-a-mano with Galactus. The artwork continues to be perfect as the two combatants toss cosmic-level energies at each other while Reed, Sue and Ben watch helplessly.

Johnny shows up from his Watcher-enhanced trip across the universe, bringing read a tiny device that turns out to be the "Ultimate Nullifier," which is apparently capable of destroying all of existence.

Well, that's enough to make Galactus decide that the battle isn't worth the prize. He heads off to eat other planets, but not before zapping the Silver Surfer and taking away his ability to travel in space. The Surfer is now exiled to Earth.

All this takes up just ten pages of amazing visuals and fast-moving storytelling. And then it's over. The FF have completely what might be their best story arc ever, though the quality will remain high throughout the Kirby/Lee era. (An era we will cover in its entirety even as we drop other books.)

Anyway, the rest of the books consists of some quiet but effective characterizations. Ben thinks Alicia is hot for the Surfer. He mopes off feeling sorry for himself (something that sets up next issues superb story). Johnny heads off to college, where he meets football player Wyatt Wingfoot. The two will be sharing some adventures very soon.

Reed, in the meantime, is getting on Sue's nerves by continually forgetting about her while conducting experiments. We know the two are in love, which makes scenes like this kind of sweet as well as funny.


Spider Man has a great Rogue's Gallery (rivaled only by Batman), but there was an occasional misstep in trying to add someone new. The Looter is one of those that didn't catch on. He's a scientist who is given super strength when exposed to a gas from a meteor. Neither his origin nor his costume are that interesting.

Still, any issue that contains a fight choreographed by Steve Ditko has its good points. Spidey and the Looter encounter each other at a science exhibit, where the battle then takes to the air when the Looter uses a helium balloon to try to escape.  Spidey brings him down in the end.

There's some more of Peter's college adventures. His standoffish-ness over the last few issues has left him without any friends. Gwen tries to attract his interest (she's still exhibiting the "LOOK AT ME! I'M HOT!!" personality that Mary Jane will eventually supplant), but he's more taken with the stuff at the science exhibit, getting her mad at him all over again.

All that is actually more interesting that the fight with the Looter. Lee and Ditko's record on Spider Man is excellent, but this issue was a minor stumble.

THOR # 128

Gee whiz, if I tried to decide whether Jack Kirby's art looked more epic either here or in this month's Fantastic Four,  I think my brain would explode.

The main plot involves Hercules, now at a Hollywood studio, being tricked by Pluto into signing an unbreakable Olympian contract that puts Herk in charge of the Underworld.

Hercules realizes he's been tricked and refuses to go, leading to a fight between him and hordes of Underworld creatures determined to drag him down to his new throne.

Thor, looking for a rematch with Hercules, shows up and together the two finish off the bad guys. But Pluto doesn't care--he's got the contract and is off to Olympus to ask Zeus to enforce it.

It all looks great. Once again, Kirby really manages to endow each panel with a real sense of cosmic power. And his design work in both the scenery and the characters is just plain awesome.

Even a few side scenes are fantastic. Seidring--the bad guy from last issue--is banished to a barren world where he's sentenced to rule over bestial rock trolls for all eternity.

And Thor, while recovering from his injuries on Asgard, goes fishing. Fishing on Asgard apparently consists of traveling on a huge ice-sled and taking potshots at large "armored beast-fish" with a harpoon gun.

Both these scenes drip with imaginative designs.

The "Tales of Asgard" feature finishes up the prophesy of Ragnorak, Finishing up the destruction of Asgard, it  concludes with Odin pointing at Loki and telling him that this will be all his fault. Not exactly a surprise twist, but once again Kirby's art work is extraordinary.

Jack Kirby had a long and fruitful career, so pointing to one phase of it and declaring it to be his absolute best work is completely subjective. But I'm gonna do it anyways. I believe Jack's work on FF and Thor during the mid-1960s really is his absolute best work.

That's it for now. Next week, we'll finish up May 1966 with a look at the Avengers, Hulk, and Namor.

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