Wednesday, July 27, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1967


There’s no rest for the weary—as soon as they get home, the FF gets attacked by some of Reed’s own scientific devices. It soon turns out that the Sandman has again infiltrated the Baxter Building and is turning Reed’s own stuff against him.

This is the introduction of the more high-tech looking costume that the Sandman would wear for several years before finally reverted back to his traditional stripped shirt. I have to say that I never really cared for the newer look. In the end, Flint Marko is just a thug who lucked on to a super-power. The stripped shirt fit his personality. The high-tech suit is just too generic.

Which brings me to another change in the character I don’t think really worked. Flint’s been “brushing up on his science” and is now able to operate many of the devices he’s captured into weapons. I can’t really buy that. I know the Marvel Universe is one where anyone who likes to tinker in his machine shop can build a super weapon, but Flint doing a little reading on the side and then becoming an expert on Reed Richards-designed tech is stretching things a little too far.

But all whining aside, it’s still a good issue with a typically wonderful fight scene.

Other events mixed in with this include the Silver Surfer’s board flying back to him while he’s being tormented by some of Doom’s guards. With his powers now back, he announces that he’s decided the entire human race is evil and, leveling Doom’s castle, flies off.

Also, the Inhuman royal family is hiding out in Europe until they can decide whether or not it’s safe to make contact with humanity. Crystal, though, is pining over Johnny. Black Bolt lets her take Lockjaw to find her one true love. They find Wyatt, who tells her about the battle with Sandman.

That battle ends when Reed blows the hatch leading to the Negative Zone. (This is, I believe, the first issue in which it is called the Negative Zone rather than simply sub-space.)  Sandman has to beat a hasty retreat to avoid being sucked in to the Zone. Reed, though, actually IS sucked into the Zone. He’s LOST FOREVER!!!

Well, he’s not, of course. But this is the set up for yet another well-written and beautifully visualized adventure.


We start this issue with a flashback to a scene we’ve actually never seen before. It turns out that when Kraven the Hunter last fought Spider Man, he was being paid by the Green Goblin to do so. And he followed a man he THOUGHT was the Goblin’s flunky back to Norman Osborn’s home, coming to the erroneous conclusion that Osborn worked for the Goblin.

Now out of prison, Kraven reads that the Goblin is “dead.” So he decides to find Norman Osborn and get some money from him, figuring he earned some pay for at least trying to take out Spidey. I’m not sure of Kraven’s business logic, but it fits quite nicely into his egotistical character.

That all leads to Kraven trying to kidnap Harry Osborn at Flash Thompson’s going-away party. Norman shows up soon after and Kraven captures him. But when Norman claims to know nothing about the Goblin, Kraven’s jungle instincts detect he’s telling the truth. Disgusted, he leaves Norman behind and leaves. Jungle instincts are apparently fooled by amnesia. (Of course, Norman fully believed he was telling the truth, so I really shouldn’t make fun of that plot point.)

The whole kidnapping thing is wrapped inside Kraven’s fight with Spider Man, who manages to save Harry, but get knocked out while trying to save Norman. This leads to an interesting ending to the conflict. Kraven finally defeats the websliinger, but really doesn’t care because he was concentrating on collecting a perceived debt from Norman. After he decides that the Goblin had tricked him months ago into just thinking Norman was a henchman, he simply leaves the scene.

The finally two panels are really nicely done. Peter says goodbye to Flash and sincerely wishes him luck. Flash coughs up a near-compliment for Peter.

That takes Flash out of continuity for a time, which gives us an opportunity to look back at his evolving characterization. Stan Lee really handled him nicely. He was the high school bully, but every so often would show a nicer side to himself. Now a few years later, he’s matured past the overt bully phase, but can still be a bit of a jerk while also showing signs of being a decent and brave man. (He attempts to jump Kraven when the villain first grabbed Harry, for instance.) When he returns to Spider Man, he and Peter will evolve into friends. When its all said and done, Flash’s character arc is very human and very believable.

THOR #139

Thor is stuck on Earth without his hammer, about to turn back into Donald Blake. Knowing that Asgard is being overrun by trolls, his off-the-cuff plan is to allow himself to be run over by a subway car after reverting to Blake. Then he’ll go to Valhalla and be in position to defend Asgard again.

This is a brave but dumb plan, since a GODDESS CAPABLE OF TELEPORTING THEM BOTH TO ASGARD IS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. Fortunately, Sif keeps her head and makes the suicide gambit unnecessary. In fact, she zeros in on Mjolnir, zapping Thor and herself into position inside the trolls cavernous homeland.

In the meantime, the troll army, equipped with super-scientific/magical weapons from another dimension, are on the verge of overrunning Asgard. Odin is kicking butt and taking names, but it’s uncertain if even he can stand against the onslaught.

But Thor regains his hammer, knocks out Ulik and frees a super-being called Orikal, who had been forced to provide the trolls with the super-weapons. Orikal zips back to his home dimension, the troll weapons stop working and Asgard wins the war.

I’m describing this very briefly, but this is once again a plot which allows Jack Kirby’s art to really shine. Once again, every panel looks awesome and drips with a sense of cosmic power. The bizarre designs of the troll weapons (such as the “ulti-force cannon”—I’m not sure what it does, but it looks fantastic) only add to the coolness factor, as do several successive panels of Thor and Ulik pounding away at each other again. .  Even considering Thor’s brief moment of plot-induced stupidity at the beginning, this is a great story.

The Tales of Asgard feature involves Thor and the Warriors Three locating Mogul’s mountain fortress (the mountain actually stretches down underground rather than up into the sky), confronting Mogul’s giant jinn in the last panel. These feature continues to exist primarily to showcase Kirby’s strength as an incredible artist.

That’s it for April. In May, Reed Richards continues to drift through the Negative Zone; Spider Man encounters another old enemy; and Thor returns to Earth to face a threat from the future.

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