Wednesday, May 4, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1966

Reed Richards gets a high-tech flying car as a gift from the mysterious ruler of the African nation of Wakanda, along with an invitation to visit. He, the rest of the FF and Johnny’s college roomie Wyatt Wingfoot accept.

Once there, though, they are trapped in a maze of high-tech booby-traps, with the ruler (the Black Panther, of course) hunting them. He nearly manages to take them out, but Wyatt uses his own brains and fighting skills to give our heroes an edge.

When the fight is over, the Panther promises to explain why he’s set up such an elaborate trap. That explanation, though, will come next issue.

The story looks great—the premise lets Jack Kirby really let loose in designing sci-fi gadgetry and choreograph some great action.

It also shows us that Wyatt has great potential as an adventurer, something that sets him up to do a little adventuring with Johnny within the next few issues.

Finally, it does something that would be no big deal nowadays, but was still a big deal when it was first published right smack in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. T’Challa will turn out to be a strong and capable ruler of an independent black African nation, as well as a scientific genius.

Of course, he’s a king that will turn out to inexplicably have quite a lot of free time on his hands, since he’ll soon be spending much of his time in the U.S. serving as an Avenger. But what the hey—maybe he just as a really good administrative staff. (“Just sign this, Sire. We’ll take care of everything else.”)

Actually, that is an acceptable break from reality—there’s no sense in creating a fun character like the Black Panther if you can’t use him with relative freedom in later stories. And there’ll be a fair share of good stories directly involving his being king of Wakanda  in years to come. The place will turn out to be a source of Vibranium and will, from time-to-time, be on the edge of war with nations like Latvaria and Atlantis.

We also get a glimpse of the Inhumans, still trapped inside their Refuge by an impenetrable force field (called “the Negative Zone”—that name still not adopted for the anti-matter universe Reed was exploring last issue). This really just serves as a reminder that they are still around, as they’ll be popping back up in the FF’s story arc before long.


Ditko’s last issue is a pretty good one. The main plot involves a down-and-out boxer who gets zapped with chemicals and electricity in an accident, making him strong and fuzzing his thinking up enough to send him on a rampage. He and Spidey tussle for awhile, then the effects of the accident wear off. The guy actually ends up with a movie contract, contrasting his good luck with Peter, who is having a lousy day.

I like the character of the guy’s manager, who looks after him when the chips are down pretty much just because he (the manager) is a decent human being.

Otherwise, several story arcs inch along—there’s actually quite a bit of stuff jammed into this issue.

Everyone at college still thinks Peter is a jerk—except for Gwen, who thinks he might not be a jerk. That sub-plot is starting to get a little old, but it’ll work itself out before long.

There’s a funny scene at the college that rather cuttingly satirizes college protesters.

More importantly, Harry Osborne’s dad Norman puts on a disguise and puts out a reward for anyone who can take out Spider Man. Why? We’ll find that out next issue, but for now it means that the webslinger is constantly fighting off attacking thugs.

Peter misses another chance to meat Mary Jane Watson, who still remains faceless for the time being.

And Peter finds out that Betty didn’t elope with Ned Leeds, who shows back up in New York and also has no idea where she is.

All in all, a nice send-off for Ditko.

THOR #130

Thor descends into the Greek Netherworld to fight for Hercules. He takes on Cerberus--who is inexplicably portrayed as a giant humanoid rather than a giant three-headed dog. But Kirby makes him look so cool that this is forgivable. Besides, Marvel comics myths never have matched up that accurately with their “real life” counterparts, anyways.

Still, it would have been nice to see a Kirby-designed giant three-headed dog.

Anyway, the action that follows is further proof that Kirby was at the top of his game in the mid-1960s. His design of the Netherworld, as well as the warriors and weapons that oppose Thor and the battle scenes that really do feel cosmic—all this makes for yet another great issue.

In the end, Pluto agrees to nullify his contract with Hercules rather than see the realm he has “ruled since the dawn of time” wrecked in battle with the unstoppable Thunder God.

But there’s no rest for the weary. Though her real identity or purpose is not yet revealed, we find out Jane Foster’s new roommate is a powerful alien of some sort, with plans that involve Thor on some level. She hypnotizes Jane and sends her off on a long trip to keep her out of the way while her plans come to fruition.

The “Tales of Asgard” feature involves Thor and the Warriors Three attacking the forces of Harokin, who possesses the Warlock’s Eye (the purpose of their quest). Thor fights Harokin while the Warriors Three battle his minions. In the end, Thor disguises himself as the now unconscious Harokin to find out where the Warlock’s Eye is hidden. Will it work? Well, this is a serial, so we’ll have to wait until next issue to find out.

Great to see the Warriors Three in action. I really do like those guys.


Bruce Banner is stumbling about the underworld (not the Greek underworld, but the “regular” underworld) trying to find the matter transmitter that’ll get him back to the surface. But he ends up trapped in a battle between Mole Man’s moloids and Tyrannus’ soldiers. The stress causes him to Hulk-out again, but the Hulk manages to find the transmitter and an automatic activation circuit zaps him back to the surface.

But things aren’t going to be quiet for him there. A secret organization with the unoriginal name of “The Secret Empire” (they eventually turn out to be a faction of Hydra) sends an agent to steal a new army missile. The agent, whose name is Boomerang and whose gimmick is tossing small metal discs with surprisingly destructive effects, institutes his plan to accomplish the theft by kidnapping Betty—who, along with Talbot and Rick, have themselves just been zapped back to the surface from the non-Greek underworld.

Got all that? Stan Lee really has developed a knack to cram a lot of storytelling into just a few pages, combining this with a talent for moving along serial stories like this one at just the right pace to be satisfying.

By the way, Boomerang has a pretty clunky costume design in this first appearance. Eventually, he’ll change to a better design and become yet another member of Marvel’s ever-growing stable of second-string supervillains.

And, since we’re down to just four titles now, that finishes July 1966 off with one fell swoop. In August, the FF and the Panther fight the Panther’s arch enemy; Spider Man has a very revealing encounter with an old enemy; Thor goes on an intergalactic jaunt to save Earth; and Hulk attempts to rescue Betty.

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