Wednesday, August 10, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: June 1967


There really is no rest for heroes, is there? Just like last issue, the Fantastic Four is only just starting to think they may have a little down-time when they get attacked. This time, it’s Blastaar and Sandman, working together as increasingly reluctant allies.

The roof of the Baxter Building gets smashed in. Triton jumps into join the fight, but gets knocked out. The fight moves down to street level, where the cops zap Sandman with a cement gun.

I like that moment. It makes perfect sense for the NYPD in the Marvel Universe to be prepared to deal with super villains. It’s something we’ll see again from time to time throughout the history of that Universe. (The most obvious example will be in the 1970s in Tomb of Dracula—where Scotland Yard as a special squad equipped to deal with vampires.)

Anyway, Ben and Sandman end up in a fight of their own, while the others team up on Blastaar. Crystal gets in a lick or two with her elemental powers, but if I had any complaint to make at all about this largely excellent fight scene, it’s that she mostly just stands on the sidelines and does very little. She’s a pretty powerful little lady, after all.  Oh, well, it’s not that long before she’ll be filling in for a pregnant Sue, so she’ll have many more opportunities to be awesome.

Reed finally manages to slap a helmet on Blastaar’s head that inhibits his explosive powers. They toss him back in the Negative Zone. Ben, in the meantime, manages to scatter Sandman along the East River, where the villain will presumably need months to pull himself back together.  


Peter’s had some rotten luck the last few issues, but things are now looking up in an issue that doesn’t worry a whole lot about characterization, but simply ties up a few loose ends while giving us yet another great fight scene.

While Pete’s getting some bed rest, Vulture continues his crime spree. Kraven, jealous that Vulture is considered more of a threat than he is, ambushes the winged crook. When Peter hears about their fight on the radio, he decides to intervene.

By now, his stamina has allowed him to get over the cold, but he has to sneak out of his apartment, since Aunt May has stopped by to take care of him. But once in action, he more than evens the score for his recent defeats. Kraven and Vulture compete with each other to take Spidey down, then even try working together. But Spidey keeps moving, preventing them from effectively double-teaming him until he’s able to knock them both out.

The Peter gets back to his apartment before anyone realizes he was gone.

This was a fun issue, concentrating mostly on action, but still having some fun at Peter’s apartment has well-meaning friends and family nearly catch him in costume and make getting back into action a challenge in itself.

THOR #141

This, like last issue, is a good, solid story with Jack Kirby doing his usual magnificent job with the art. But, like last issue, it suffers a little from simply not being as cosmically cool as Thor had consistently been for the previous two dozen issues.

I assume that Stan and Jack thought the readers might need a break from multi-issue story arcs. So issues 140 through 142 will tell single issue tales. In this one, a mobster hires a rogue scientist to build an indestructible robot called Replicus. The robot goes on a crime spry, which attracts Thor’s attention. The Thunder God and the robot go toe-to-toe, with Replicus seeming to gain the upper hand.

The cool part of this story comes when the mobster—shown to be a ruthless killer—learns the scientist is really a spy planning on world conquest. This proves to be too evil even for the mobster, who sacrifices himself to take out the scientist and destroy Replicus’ control panel.

It’s a nicely done piece of characterization, with a bit of foreshadowing early on to indicate the mobster might have a charitable side hidden inside him somewhere.

The story as a whole isn’t a great one, but it’s a good one. As with last issue, it only suffers when compared to what has come before.  This is a book that, more than any other Marvel book of the time, really strives on multi-part, non-stop adventure yarns involving beings powerful enough to smash solar systems without working up a sweat, with trips to other dimensions, planets and universes tossed in for good measure. A single killer robot just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need an army of killer robots, sent by a sentient galaxy to re-mold the Earth into an ultimate weapon with which to conquer Asgard and Olympus after enslaving Galactus and Ego. Then you just might have a story cosmic enough to suit Thor.

The “Tales of Asgard” story continues the mission of Thor and the Warriors Three to take down Mogul. They invade his fortress; Volstagg is distracted by a pretty girl; Mogul magically zaps a thief to be his body double and summons up Satan’s Forty Horsemen---and Jack Kirby makes it all look cool.

That’s it for June. Next week, we’ll visit the front lines in 1940s Europe for another visit with Sgt. Rock. (Hope that's okay with everyone--Admittedly, I’m on a Russ Heath kick right now). In two weeks, we’ll take a look at July 1967, as the Fantastic Four learns about a powerful alien race that will cause Marvel Earth no end of trouble in years to come; Spider Man considers quitting even as he encounters a certain chubby mob boss for the first time; and Thor fights a villain from someone else’s Rogue’s Gallery.

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