Wednesday, May 18, 2011
History of the Marvel Universe: September 1966
The Black Panther throws a big shindig to celebrate the victory over Klaw. Grateful to the Fantastic Four for their help, he gives gifts to them.
It’s Johnny’s gift that is important to the story--especially since Sue and Reed’s gifts were new clothes. Gee whiz, remember how horrible it was to open a Christmas present as a kid and see a shirt or underwear. T’Challa could have given them anything from a pet robot panther to a rocket ship and he gives them CLOTHES!!!!
Oh, well. Sue was certainly ecstatic over the silly clothes. (Latest fashions from Paris or some such nonsense) and Reed was probably happy that Sue was happy. But I’ll bet he was secretly seething that he didn’t get a new rocket ship.
Anyway, this sequence actually is full of fun and sweet character moments. The FF is spending a few pages just hanging out with some friends and having a good time. We even get a reminder that Reed and Sue are deeply in love.
But a new set of clothes? Don’t ever let T’Challa do your Christmas shopping for you.
Back to Johnny’s gift. He wants to return to the Great Refuge and make one last attempt to break through the barrier, thus reuniting with Crystal. We also get a few scenes told from the Inhumans’ point-of-view, showing Black Bolt and family trying to break out of the barrier. But only the now completely bug-nuts Maximus knows how to do this and he’s not telling.
T’Challa gives Johnny a big, transparent bubble that flies using magnetic energy. (See, T’Challa? See? Think about it for a moment and you CAN come up with cool gift ideas.) Wyatt invites himself along and the two take off for the Great Refuge.
Along the way, they stumble across an ancient crypt and find a medieval knight just waking up from suspended animation. This is Prestor John, a knight of King Richard who wandered all over the world, finally discovering the high-tech (or possibly magical) kingdom of Avalon. Now all that is left of Avalon is a super-weapon called the Evil Eye.
After the Eye is demonstrated, Johnny realizes it might cut through the barrier. Without thinking, he snatches it from Prestor John and flies off, not realizing that it’s about to overload and blow up. Wyatt and John zip after him in the flying bubble, shooting the Eye out of his hand in the nick of time. Johnny is saved, but his chance to shatter the barrier and rescue Crystal is gone.
The whole story once again gives Jack Kirby a chance to design all sorts of super-scientific gadgetry and bizarre giant statuary—more Wakandan stuff; devices and vehicles from ancient history described by Prestor John; and John’s crypt. The story itself is solid and sending Wyatt and Johnny off for some adventures of their own is a fun idea. But it’s all made truly great by Jack Kirby’s visuals.
But still---CLOTHES? He’s surrounded by some of the coolest inventions in the history of inventing, but he gives them clothes. Gee whiz.
This issue gives you two clichés for the price of one in order to resolve the Green Goblin story arc, but that’s not really a complaint. The characters ring true and John Romita continues to prove he can provide some pretty cool lookin’ fight scenes.
Peter is tied up in the Goblin’s secret base. That introduces the first cliché—to buy time, he goads Osborne into a lengthy villain monologue.
But Osborne is bug nuts enough to make this believable. And his origin is an interesting one that fits the character—ruthless businessman who neglects his son to make money, transformed by a lab accident into a ruthless costumed criminal who neglects his son to make money.
Anyway, he frees Peter in order to prove he can finally beat Spider Man in a straight up fight. Romita really does provide a great fight scene here—proving that Spidey has hit the jackpot with two artists in a row.
The second cliché comes at the fight’s climax—an electric shock gives Osborne amnesia, erasing his memory of being the Green Goblin and his knowledge of Spider Man’s secret identity. Peter saves him from a raging fire and doesn’t tell anyone about his career as the Goblin.
Gee, how convenient! This one is a little harder to swallow, but in an otherwise strong issue, it’s forgivable. Besides, the only other solution would have been killing off Osborne. Considering the high-quality stories that Norman would be a part of (culminating in the death of Gwen Stacy arc a few years down the line), keeping him around was probably a wise decision. Of course, a resurrected Osborne has been a major symptom of the dramatic derailment of the Marvel Universe in recent years. It makes one wonder if perhaps we all wouldn’t have been better off if Norman had bit the big one early on.
Anyway, the issue also involves reference to Aunt May (who literally worries herself sick when Peter is out late without calling) and a brief interlude with Betty Brant, who has decided to return to New York City. As I’ve implied in past entries, I remembered Betty being away much longer before she came back. But here she is popping up after just a few issues. Oh, well, perhaps I’m suffering from a form of intermittent comic book amnesia.
This is a really fast-paced story that allows Kirby to draw space ships, space stations, robots, alien weaponry and A FREAKIN’ LIVING PLANET!!!! It is, needless to say, a wonderful issue.
Thor continues his rampage against the Colonizers. When they try to recapture the ship he’s using, he captures a bigger ship. He proves a big robot called an Indestructible isn’t all that indestructible. He’s about to smash the source of the space lock holding Earth in its grip when the Grand Commissioner of the Colonizers cuts a deal with him.
An as yet unidentified threat from the mysterious Black Galaxy threatens our galaxy (including both the Colonizers and Earth) with destruction. If Thor can find this threat and defeat it, the Colonizers will leave Earth alone. Thor accepts. Soon he and a humanoid recording device called the Recorder are in a ship, zipping into the Black Galaxy. Once there, they run smack into Ego, the Living Planet.
This is great stuff. Matching Thor up against super-powerful alien threats and sending him on an epic quest across several galaxies is a magnificent set-up for Kirby’s art and provides us with the sort of cosmic level storytelling that best fits the God of Thunder. Though I still have to rate the Thor/Hercules story arc as my overall favorite Thor tale, that is very much a subjective opinion. As with the Fantastic Four, there’s not a single story from this time period that fails to satisfy and entertain.
The Tales of Asgard story is a quiet one. Thor and the Warriors Three are resting up after their fight with Harokin’s forces. But their rest is interrupted by the appearance of the Black Stallion—a harbinger of death for someone…
TALES TO ASTONISH #83
Having rescued Betty from Boomerang last issue, Hulk leaves her snug in a cave he dug out for her, then leaps off to find her food. What he finds is General Ross, Rick Jones and a column of army troops. But Hulk surprises everyone by grabbing Ross and Rick and taking them back to Betty. Then he leaps off to mope atop a mountain, wondering what to do next.
Meanwhile, Boomerang takes advantage of most of Ross’ troops being gone to attack the army base and get the Orion missile. Meanwhile #2, the leaders of the Secret Empire, while waiting for their minion to get the missile, continue to rapidly back stab each other.
The Hulk story arc continues to roll along at a fun pace and Stan Lee is finally getting a lock on how the character works best, both in terms of personality and the method through which he changes form. We’ll be seeing more of Bruce Banner in the next few chapters as Lee discovers ways to work the puny human into the story along with his brutish alter ego.
By the way, the whole Secret Empire thing resolves itself in issues we are no longer covering. As mentioned in an earlier entry, they turn out to be a faction of Hydra. It’s actually SHIELD agent Gabe Jones who ends up taking them down.
Anyway, this is a good spot to drop the Hulk as a regular feature in our chronological reviews. That brings us down to the three core titles we’ll stick to for many months to come. We’ll be revisiting Hulk, soon, though. He and Spider Man are going to encounter each other in the 1966 Spider Man annual.
That’s it for September 1966. In October, the Silver Surfer puts some moves on Alicia Masters (or does he?); Spider Man adds another villain to his rogue’s gallery; and Thor takes on A FREAKIN’ LIVING PLANET!!! (I’m sorry. I just enjoy typing that phrase.)