Wednesday, June 29, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1967


“You insufferable, unspeakable BLOT on the escutcheon of humanity!!!”  That’s one of my favorite insults. Dr. Doom (now sporting the cosmic power he snitched from the Silver Surfer.”  It’s a pretty unfair insult, seeing how the target of the insult—Ben Grimm—is the one person in the Marvel Universe who can give Peter Parker a run for the title of Most Thoroughly Decent Human Being.

But it’s a great insult nonetheless—part of a great issue. Johnny and Wyatt are zapped back to the Baxter Building by Lockjaw, who senses danger there. The danger, of course, is Doom, who is attacking the FF with his new powers.

Most of the issue is another great fight scene, with each member of the FF (and Wyatt) using a succession of intelligent and courageous tactics. But Doom beats them back with pure raw power until Reed… surrenders?

This is just Reed being a smarty-pants as usual. He plays off Doom’s ego, convincing the villain that it’s more satisfying to keep his enemies alive to wallow in abject defeat than to simply kill them.

So he flies off, leaving Reed with the time to come up with a plan even more brilliant than surrendering.

Another great issue from start to finish, with the fight scenes being used to highlight nice bits of characterizations for each of the main characters.


Curt Connors turns back into the Lizard (a side-effect of the chemicals he handled while helping Spidey out last issue), so Peter has to try to track him down.

I was actually a little surprised to realize that this was only the Lizard’s second appearance. There’s even a detailed recap of Connors’ background, since it’d been over three years since we’d last seen this particular villain. We comic book geeks get these characters burned so deeply into our consciousness that sometimes we forget there was a time when comic book geeks were still getting to know them.

Anyway, there’s an exciting running battle along the rooftops of New York mixed in with some nicely done character stuff. During the fight, Spider Man’s arm is injured and a doctor patches him up in front of witnesses.

That means Peter can’t be seen in pubic also with his arm in a sling and has to blow off a date with Mary Jane. This, of course, doesn’t stop Gwen from being jealous of MJ. (Aunt May, by the way, is on a trip to Florida, explaining how Peter can hide his injured arm from everyone.)

Anyway, it’s really a tribute to Stan Lee’s storytelling skills that he covers all the soap opera stuff without ever turning the book into a soap opera. His dialogue for Mary Jane is still a little too over-the-top hipster, but his ability to structure a story is by this time impeccable. He keeps things fast moving and exciting, but does so without sacrificing good characterization.

We see this in this month’s Fantastic Four as well. In that case, the character moments are often mixed in with the action. In Spider Man, they are interspersed between the action sequences. Both methods work great.

I do have to complain about one aspect of the story. At one point, the Lizard attempts to frame Spider Man for a crime by allowing witnesses to see him (the Lizard) at a distance climbing up a skyscraper. Everyone assumes it’s Spidey and he’s accused of a jewel theft committed by the Lizard.

Poor Spidey gets framed with annoying frequency on the flimsiest of evidence. This instance probably isn’t as bad as the one back in Strange Tales Annual #1 (“It’s a piece of webbing! Spider Man did it!”), but, gee whiz, someone call in CSI or something before automatically shouting that Spider Man did it!

Of course, that’s simply a function of Spider Man never quite being trusted by the general public—and these frame ups are always a part of good stories. So I suppose we can be forgiving.

THOR #136

Lee and Kirby were quite capable of generating strong emotions in their stories, but this might just be their strongest. Thor finally takes Jane to Asgard. She immediately starts freaking out at the sight of bizarre warriors, a captive troll and any number of other images beyond the understanding of a mere mortal.

Odin is polite enough to her and tests her to see if she has the mettle to have godhood bestowed on here. She doesn’t—panicking pretty quickly at the sight of a pug-ugly monster. It turns out she just doesn’t have what it takes to be a goddess.

What makes this story cool is its attitude towards Jane. There’s no inherent criticism of her nor is there any attempt to portray her as cowardly or weak-willed. It’s made clear that things she experiences are simply not for human eyes. Ironically, Odin was right all the time about Thor's relationship being a bad idea. True Love does not win out in the end.

Odin sends her back to Earth, mind-wiping her of all memory of Thor and giving her a new start as nurse for a handsome doctor. It’s not the last time we’ll see Jane Foster, but for now, she’s out of the Thor continuity.

Thor, broken-hearted, throws himself into battle with the latest “powerful monster threatening Asgard.” He half-hopes to fall in battle, but he beats the snot out of the thing. Then he meets the Lady Sif, who had a brief appearance in Journey into Mystery #102 as a Damsel in Distress. Now she’s a trained warrior of Asgard and she has the hots for the Thunder God. She’ll be an important part of Thor’s mythology from now on, so, hey, it appears our hero will be getting over Jane before long after all!

The Tales of Asgard story involves Thor beating the snot out of yet another monster—this one the dragon that’s captured Volstagg. The chubby warrior is captured and Thor and the Warriors Three ride on to another adventure.

That’s it for January 1967. In February, The FF plan a counterattack while the Inhumans plan an escape; Spider Man continues his battle with the Lizard; and Thor adds a certain troll to his list of arch enemies.

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