Wednesday, May 11, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1966


Stan Lee’s script jams a lot of information into this issue—we learn of the Black Panther’s origin, some history of Wakanda, the existence of a mountain of Vibranium, the origin of Panther’s arch-enemy Klaw (the master of sound) and the reason the Panther invited the FF to his country for a fight.

But the story isn’t rushed or stilted at all. Lee and Kirby continue to combine their respective strengths as storytellers smoothly and effectively. Kirby’s visuals give us super-scientific gadgetry, jungle settings, bizarre creatures (created out of solid sound), and great fight scenes. Lee’s dialogue gives us all the information we need and some great one-liners from Ben.

It all boils down to the Black Panther confronting Klaw (who is after the Vibranium) while the FF and Wyatt Wingfoot fight a couple of sound-construct monsters. In the end, Klaw is defeated and retreats into a sound chamber that will “alter [my] own basic structure via my sound transformer,” allowing him to return with enhanced powers in a few issues. The Panther, meanwhile, pledges his life and fortune “to the service of all mankind,” adding another cool hero to the Marvel Universe.


John Romita takes over the art on The Amazing Spider Man for what will be a long and brilliant run. For a few issues, he seems to emulate Ditko just a litte, but he soon turns to his own strong and distinctive style. Ditko is missed, but Romita also choreographs killer fight scenes, gives us clear visuals that tell the story effectively and outdoes Ditko in his ability to draw drop-dead gorgeous women. With all due respect to Steve Ditko’s magnificent work, I’m not sure Mary-Jane Watson would be the important character she is today if Ditko had drawn the “Face it, Tiger. You hit the jackpot.” scene coming up in just a few more issues.

Romita’s premiere is also a key story in the series. The Green Goblin is back, determined to defeat Spider Man once and for all.

He uses some thugs pulling off a robbery to lure Spidey into a trap—during that fight, he’s hit with a gas that deadens his spider sense. That allows the Goblin to trail him without being detected. The bad guy thus learns that Spider Man is Peter Parker.

He attacks Peter outside Aunt May’s house, giving us a great fight scene made more visually unique because Peter is fighting in his civilian clothes. (A smoke screen used by Goblin during the fight has the unexpected benefit of hiding Peter from May and the neighbors while he’s pulling off Spider Man moves.) Peter is knocked out and carried off to Goblin’s warehouse HQ, where he manages to taunt Goblin into revealing HIS secret ID. That, as pretty much every comic book fan knows now, is Harry Osborne’s dad Norman.

The main story arc is wonderful—another high point in Spidey’s history. Also, Lee starts to tie up the “Peter’s classmates thinks Peter is a jerk” story arc that has limbed on a few issues too many as he finally starts to make friends with Harry and even gets Flash thinking he might not be so bad. Heck, Peter even buries the hatchet with romantic rival Ned Leeds. If it wasn’t for the fact that his arch enemy has blown his secret ID and kidnapped him (oh, and if Aunt May weren’t once again back to frail health where any sudden shock might kill her), then Peter would have been having a pretty good day.

THOR #131

Thor finally gets permission from Odin to marry Jane Foster—though Odin quite wisely predicts that a relationship between a god and a mortal can only come to a bad end.

But that’s something to be resolved in a future issue. When Thor returns to Jane’s apartment, he runs into Tana Nile, who is revealed to be a member of an all-powerful alien race known as the Colonizers. And their name says it all—one of them picks a planet and takes it over as a personal colony, using their super-science to force the native population to submit.

While Tana arranges to have the Earth trapped within a force field called a “space lock,” two other Colonizers trap Thor in a block of coagulated protons (something that I suspect doesn’t make any sense at all—but it sure sounds cool) and take him back to their home on Rigel for study. But Thor is only pretended to be trapped to get information. Once the Colonizer ship is heading back for Rigel, he breaks out and knocks out his captors. His plan—take the ship to Rigel and force them to release Earth from the space lock.

I love Kirby’s character design for the Colonizers—they look a little like super-scientific bobble-heads, though that description makes them sound a little too silly. They really do have an eerie and alien feel to them that adds to the story.

Kirby also does a typically awesome job of designing the Colonizer’s huge space station on Rigel.

The “Tales of Asgard” back-up story is also pretty awesome. It gives Volstagg some screen time, allowing him (more through dumb luck than skill) to capture the Warlock’s Eye and capture Harokin’s forces. A panel in which he knocks out several soldiers with a belly slam by itself makes the whole story worthwhile.

Kirby continues to excel himself on both the FF and Thor. As I’ve said before, picking a “best-ever” phase for Kirby’s long and awesome career is very subjective, but I still gotta go with mid-60s work on these two titles for the win. Every panel he drew on these books literally drips with imagination.


Hulk spots Boomerang as the villain escapes with Betty. The two tussle for awhile, but Boomerang soon realizes he’s outmatched. He leaves Betty with Hulk in order to make a getaway.

In the meantime, General Ross (with Rick Jones stowing away in a truck) takes an armored column out to rescue his daughter, leaving Talbot behind to guard the powerful Orion missile (which, remember, is what the Secret Empire—Boomerang’s employers—ultimately plan to steal). Also, the leaders of the Secret Empire begin an internal mini-civil war to gain control of the organization, as one of them is killed by a booby-trap.

By this time, Stan Lee has found the proper personality and method of change for the Hulk (though the green guy is still a little more mean-spirited than he will eventually be portrayed). Lee also continues to demonstrate a real skill in advancing the plot within a serial story arc at just the right speed to keep everything dramatically satisfying.

That’s it for August. In September, Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot take a really strange road trip; Thor takes an even longer road trip; Spider Man fights a “final” battle against his arch enemy; and Hulk does something really nice for Betty.

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