Wednesday, June 15, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1966


Gee whiz, Stan and Jack were really good at pacing out a story with multiple plot lines. There’s a lot going on here, but we never lose track of what is going on.

Johnny and Wyatt are still trying to get Lockjaw to zap them into the Great Refuge. Lockjaw instead zaps them to another dimension, where they nearly get flattened by a stampede of giant monsters before the big doggie zaps them away again.

Inside the Great Refuge, Maximus (who is steadily growing more and more crazy-pants) is claiming that they can escape from the force field, but only if Black Bolt speaks. Since Black Bolt can’t speak without destroying everything around him, this is something of a mystery.

Reed, Sue and Ben deal with the Sandman breaking out of prison, but the villain manages to slip away and steal some equipment from the Baxter Building to help him rescue the Wizard. Great stuff here in addition to the typically great-looking action scenes, especially when Sandman discovers that threatening Sue means hitting Reed’s berserk button. Take my advice—NEVER threaten Sue when Reed is around. 

Another nice touch shows Sandman able to make his escape because he proved to be better able to think on his feet than Reed expected.

Finally, Dr. Doom lures the Silver Surfer into his castle and uses a device to steal the Surfer’s cosmic energy. The issue ends with Doom riding Surfer’s board towards an encounter with his arch enemies. This is the beginning of what might be the best of the Dr. Doom story arcs during the Lee-Kirby years.


We get a good look at Mary Jane and her free-spirited personality (though it takes a few issues for Stan Lee to tone down the faux-hipster dialogue—telling “Petey-O” he’s “grooveville” is a little too much). But while Peter is pretty much struck dumb by MJ’s beauty (and John Romita does make her look gorgeous), the Rhino escapes.

Spidey’s first encounter with the villain ends in a draw, though our hero only survives because a cop risks his life to pull him to safety when he’s stunned. It’s a nice touch that adds to a solid action sequence.

We learn Rhino’s origin—he was given his indestructible second skin by professional spies who wanted to use him as an assassin. But he went independent.

Anyway, Spidey finds a small sample of Rhino’s artificial outer skin in some rubble and he and Curt Conners rig up some special webbing that melts the stuff of Rhino when they fight their rematch.

Aside from all that, Flash gets his draft notice. I always wondered why Stan decided to write Flash out of the book for awhile. There were always hints that the big bully had a good side hiding somewhere and, when he eventually returns to the book as a regular character, he and Peter become friends. But, for whatever reason, Stan decides he’s done with him for the time being. Perhaps he was already planning the Peter/Gwen & Harry/MJ pairings and figured Flash was going to be just a fifth wheel. Whatever the reason, Flash will be shuffling off to Vietnam soon.

THOR #135

Thor fights the Man-Beast—a creature artificially evolved from both a man and a wolf. This gives the creature super-intelligence, super-mental powers and super-strength.

It also gives him a desire to wipe out all other life, since he figures he’s too superior to tolerate everyone else. Gee whiz, I often feel the same way (its a function of being smarter and better than everyone else), but I’ve never tried to commit global genocide.

Anyway, Man-Beast uses the High Evolutionary’s equipment to whip up some evil minions. This leads to Thor and the creatures loyal to the High Evolutionary fighting in pitched combat against Man-Beast and his creatures. This is, of course, the sort of situation that Kirby excelled at—designing weird creatures and showing them in brilliantly conceived battle scenes.

In the end, Thor beats down the villain. The High Evolutionary blasts Man-Beast and his minions into space, where they can find an uninhabited planet to live on with having to slaughter everyone else.  Then the H.E. blasts off into space himself—using his castle as a space ship—since he has now realized his research endangers mankind. 

Actually, Man-Beast never quite comes across as a Thor-level threat, but the visuals here are so much fun, I really can’t complain.

The “Tales of Asgard” tale is round 1 of Thor versus the dragon that has kidnapped Volstagg. Once again, Kirby’s layouts are wonderful.

That’s it for December. Next week, we’ll pause from Marvel once more to take a look at another multi-part Sgt. Rock story.

In two weeks, we’ll cover January 1967, in which Dr. Doom goes surfing; Spider Man fights an old friend who becomes an old enemy; and Thor finally learns exactly why his dad didn’t want him dating a mortal woman.

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