Wednesday, June 8, 2011
History of the Marvel Universe: 1966 Annuals
Lockjaw has zapped to the Baxter Building, bringing Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot with him. While Reed studies Lockjaw to try to figure out his dimension hopping power (and thus reach the Inhumans), Johnny flies off alone and gets ambushed by the original Human Torch.
For those of you who are inexcusably unfamiliar with the character: The original Torch is a character from the 1940s (briefly revised in the 1950s). He’s an android accidently given the power to burst into flames and to control flames.
He’s apparently been largely forgotten, since Reed has to explain to Ben who he was (of course, that scene actually exists to explain to young readers who he was), but it turns out he’s still around. He’s been found and reactivated by the Mad Thinker, who uses a grouchy supercomputer named Quasimodo to force him to attack Johnny.
What follows is a really nifty fight, starting with the two torches dog fighting each other, then moving into a huge underground cavern (where they accidentally detonate a pocket of natural gas), then back into the skies. Finally, the rest of the FF show up and, using a liquid asbestos substance invented by Reed, manage to capture the original Torch. When they find out the Thinker is behind it all, Lockjaw—on his own initiative—teleports them all to the Thinker’s lair.
The original Torch then sacrifices himself in order to stop Quasimodo from destroying Johnny. The Thinker escapes and Quasimodo vows revenge.
The meat of this story is the Torch vs. Torch battle, but seeing another character from the 40s join Namor and Captain America in the modern Marvel universe is pretty cool.
This is the last time we’ll see the original Torch for awhile—at least in his original form. Later, he’s found by the evil robot Ultron and rebuilt into Vision, who quickly turns good and joins the Avengers.
That won’t be the end of it, though. Later, Vision’s origin will be retconned so that he wasn’t built from the original Torch. Then he’ll be re-retconned so that he was. Then the original Torch will show up as the original Torch, due to some time-travel paradox whammy—or something like that.
It all becomes something of a mess. Oh, well, it’s inevitable that some aspects of a ever-growing comic book universe become convoluted and paradoxical. I do think most of the problems with the Torch/Vision history actually should have been avoided, but that argument is outside the subject at hand today. Fantastic Four Annual #4 is a strong, entertaining story with great art work that fit quite nicely into the continuity of its day. Seeing the two Torches go at it was more fun than a barrel of flaming napalm.
The Avengers are looking for a new member and Hawkeye nominates Spider Man. The other Avengers largely agree to give Webhead a chance, though Wasp is initially against it because—she hates spiders?
Oh, well, that bit of silliness is probably a legitimate part of Jan’s personality anyways. The Avengers search for Spidey and, when they find him, invite him to undergo a test to see if he can join their ranks.
Peter goes through several pages of introspection, pondering the pros and cons of joining the Avengers and wondering how it might effect Aunt May. But he finally opts to go for it.
The Avengers ask him to locate the Hulk (recently seen in NYC) and lure him to the mansion. Spidey does find the big green guy and begins a running battle with him, hoping to goad him into following. But at one point in the fight, Hulk briefly transforms back into Bruce Banner. When Spidey learns Banner’s story, he feels sorry for him and just lets him go.
The irony here, of course, is that Spider Man didn’t realize that the Avengers wanted to help Banner themselves. But Peter doesn’t know that. All he knows is that he’s lost a chance to join the Avengers.
Stan Lee’s dialogue does an excellent job of clearly following Peter’s thought processes throughout the story, making us fully aware of just how difficult are the various decisions he has to make. The action in this story is very good, but the characterization of Peter is spot-on. That’s what makes this story shine.
It’s time for the Tournament of Titans on Asgard, which pretty much means all the best fighters from the Realm Eternal (and a few from other planets) show up in a big arena and beat the snot out of each other.
This by itself is a good idea—it allows Jack Kirby to once again go to town in designing interesting characters. In fact, he comes up with a quartet of fighters who thematically match up against Thor and the Warriors Three. (Including a small magic-using troll matched against the huge Volstagg.)
We’re treated to several pages of great fight scenes before the Destroyer puts in an unexpected appearance. Remember, this indestructible robot can only be activated if possessed by someone else’s life force.
It’s Loki who possesses him this time around. He and the Absorbing Man are still floating helpless through vast space, but Loki can still do thought transference, which he uses to activate the Destroyer.
The robot manages to clean the collective clock of Thor and the other Asgardian warriors before confronting an apparently doomed Odin. But Odin shuts down the Destroyer by shutting down Loki’s ability to think.
Ouch. Well, if you’re going to run a place like Asgard, I guess you gotta be ready to make a ruthless decision or two from time to time. And, since Loki was getting ready to commit mass murder, it’s safe to say that Odin was pretty much justified in his action.
That’s it for the Annuals. Next time, we’ll finish up 1966 as Dr. Doom returns to torment the FF (giving the Silver Surfer a hard time along the way); Rhino returns to torment Spider Man; and Thor fights a big bad wolf.