Wednesday, April 13, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1966, part 1


Gee whiz, this is a nice story. It’s one of those that should seem corny (and, to an extent, I suppose it is). But the emotions involved come across as so sincere that it all turns out okay.

Ben is feeling down and depressed about being the Thing. That makes him a pretty easy target for an unnamed scientist, who drugs him unconscious and uses a machine to sort of switch places. Ben turns human while the scientist becomes the Thing.

The scientist is jealous of Reed Richards success and bitter about his own failure as a scientist. Now he plans to use his new identity to infiltrate the FF and kill Reed.

His chance comes when Reed is exploring the Negative Zone. Actually, I don’t think it’s called the Negative Zone yet in this first appearance of that weird dimension. But whatever the heck it is, Reed needs to explore it.

I won’t recount the details. Suffice to say that the ersatz Thing is so impressed by Reed’s bravery and selflessness—even in the face of death—that he (the bad guy) ends up sacrificing his life to save Reed.

That results in Ben being turned back into the Thing, but he’s feeling better about that now, having been reminded over the course of the story that he’s a loved part of the family.

Once again—yes, it’s corny. But it’s a well-constructed story that hits the right emotional points at just the right times. There’s plenty of action, but the story seems more leisurely paced then the non-stop rush of the last ten issues. It’s actually a nice break before the pace picks up again next issue with the return of the Inhumans and the introduction of the Black Panther.

Also, Jack Kirby obviously has fun designing the visually impressive Negative Zone.


A mad scientist finishes his prison term and immediately starts building a pair of odd-looking robots to exact revenge on the man who sent him to prison.

That man is Norman Osborne--the father of Harry Osborne, Peter's classmate who will eventually become his best friend. This is kinda, sorta the first time we've met Norman. He will--of course--be introduced as the Green Goblin's real identity in a couple of issues. For now, we learn he's verbally abusive to Harry, is a pretty rotten person in his own right and probably should have been in jail along with the mad scientist.

This is Steve Ditko's next-to-last issue on The Amazing Spider-Man. There's several different stories about why he left Marvel (and Ditko himself has always been reluctant to give interviews about any subject), so I'm actually not sure what the real story is. One story I've heard several times is that he and Stan Lee had a major falling out over who the Green Goblin really is. Ditko wanted it to be some random guy we'd never seen before. Lee thought it only fair to the readers to have it be someone connected to the main cast.

I have no idea if that story is true--it's just my favorite of those I've read over the years.

But back to the story: Ditko does some fun visual designs for the robots and (as usual) expertly choreographs the action. There's also a few scenes of Peter at college, in which we see that Gwen Stacy continues to be attracted to Peter and annoyed with him at the same time.

THOR #129

Thor pays a visit to Jane Foster and makes nice—even promising to give up his godhood and stay Don Blake forever. But first, Odin gives him a job to do fulfilling a prophesy that he must fight for another.

He also meets Jane’s new roommate, the odd but very pretty Tana Nile. Tana’s up to something, but it’ll be a few issues before we find out what it is.

Meanwhile, Hercules scales Olympus and fights a Titan to get to HIS dad—Zeus. But Zeus can’t help him—Olympian contracts are unbreakable. Herc has to find someone to fight in his stead to get him out of the “ruling the underworld” deal.

It’s a good thing for him that Thor is fulfilling a “help someone else” prophesy. The issue ends with the Thunder God offering to fight the hordes of Hades on Herc’s behalf.

This is a comparatively quiet issue, setting up the plot for the awesome battle that will take place next month. But it doesn’t drag or get dull at all. There’s several nice character moment involving several characters and wonderful Kirby visuals of Olympus and its denizens.

“Tales of Asgard” continues with Odin’s attempts to stave off Ragnarok. He tosses Loki into suspended animation, then sends Thor and the Warriors Three off to retrieve a weapon called the Warlock’s Eye. The Eye, though, has fallen into the hands of an ambition warlord named Harokin.

Like the main story, this back-up feature exists to set up the action coming in the next issue, keeping things interesting through well-constructed storytelling and imaginative imagery.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll finish up June with a look in on Namor, Hulk and the Avengers.

1 comment:

  1. FANTASTIC FOUR #51 is maybe my favorite issue of the title, certainly a sentimental favorite. I first encountered it in MARVEL TREASURY EDITION #11 (1976) and I read it again and again as a nine-year-old kid who had just started reading comics the year before. I think the story has an especial appeal to boys, with its celebrating friendship and loyalty. A Bible verse springs to mind after reading this comic: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay his life down for his friends" (John 15:13).

    I pulled it out after reading your post and after riding the wave of nostalgia I still think it holds up well. You're right that the dimension is not called the "Negative Zone" yet, just "Sub-Space," but Reed does note that here everything positive is transposed into negative.

    The SPIDER-MAN and THOR synopses/reviews were excellent, too! -- Gary in Omaha


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