Wednesday, August 3, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1967


Ben, Johnnie and Sue watch helplessly on the Negative Zone scanner while Reed gradually floats towards certain death in the zone where anti-matter and matter meet and explode.  There’s nothing they can do to save him—none of their powers are effective in this situation.

In the meantime, some Negative Zone aliens jettison a prisoner from their ship and speed off. We soon find out this prisoner is Blastaar, the Living Bomb Burst, a tyrant who has been overthrown, but who still has dreams of conquest. His power is to generate explosive energy out of his fingertips—something most tyrants would find perpetually useful.

Anyway, Reed seems doomed. But Crystal shows up via the Lockjaw express, sees what’s happening and zaps back to the Inhumans to get help.

Black Bolt and company are having a little mini-adventure of their own. A Communist raiding party with a super weapon is landing on the small European island where the Inhumans are hiding. The Inhumans drive them off.  This fight scene exists purely to make the story come out to the requisite number of pages and add a little direct action to the story, but it’s presented with typical Jack Kirby coolness, so it works just fine.

Black Bolt designates Triton to save Reed, since space (as everyone knows) is like a big ocean and only Triton would have the maneuverability to reach Reed in time. I don’t think that makes sense at all in real-life physics, but it makes such perfect sense in a comic book world that it remains well within the suspension of disbelief threshold.

Triton rescues Reed in the nick of time. The whole Negative Zone sequence, by the way, is yet another example of Jack Kirby being in his element as an artist, allowed to design bizarrely cool landscapes (or, I suppose, space-scapes in this instance) and equally bizarre alien creatures. This issue is yet another example  that these few years were a high-point in Marvel Comics—the artists assigned to their best books were the perfect ones to do the job.

Back to the story: Blastaar follows the Earthlings back through the portal into our world without anyone noticing. He quickly runs into the Sandman (who is still hanging around waiting for another crack at the FF) and the two agree to team up.

Thus ends yet another visually magnificent issue. We’ve also met the first of two important Negative Zone villains who will become a regular part of the FF’s Rogue’s Gallery. (It’s a couple of more real-life years before Annihilus puts in an appearance.) 

Characterizations continue to be strong as well. Sue, Johnnie and Ben’s collective reactions to helplessness while watching Reed plunge to a seemingly unavoidable doom were realistic and heartfelt. The family dynamic that exists within the Fantastic Four continues to give it a different feel than other superhero books.


Spidey spends a chilly night searching for Kraven (“Can’t let that tin-horn Tarzan go through life thinking he’s beaten me!”) and ends up with a nasty flu the next day. But there’s no rest for superheroes with runny noses. He’s soon forced to drag himself out of bed when the Vulture goes on a crime spree.

This isn’t Adrian Toomes, though. Toomes has been injured while in prison and thinks he’s going to die. He tells a fellow prisoner—Blackie Drago—where he’s buried his last Vulture suit just outside the prison walls.

He wants Blackie to get revenge on Spider Man, but when Blackie manages to get the suit and escape, he simply starts stealing as much stuff as he can.

Spidey finds him and John Romita Sr. then provides us with an energetic fight starting over the George Washington Bridge before moving to the city proper. Drago is younger and more agile than Toomes and Spidey is weak from his flu bug. In the end, Drago leaves Spider Man unconscious on a rooftop.

Another fine issue. The story flows along quickly; the idea of Spider Man down with the flu fits the ambiance of the character perfectly; and little touches (such as Drago being awkward at flying when he first gets the suit) simply add to the pleasure.

Poor Spider Man has been beaten two issues in a row by two different villains. Gee whiz, you don’t think that’ll come back to haunt him next issue, do you?

THOR #140

Keep in mind that I’m sticking with these three books for my chronological reviews of the Marvel Universe because I think they are the best books published during Marvel’s highest creative peak.  

But there are moments when Stan and Jack would drop the ball, if only for a panel or two. The Asgardians are supposed to be epic and full of grandeur. But a line of dialogue like “Make ready the royal bath that I may take mine ease!” isn’t going to sound anything other than silly. Gee whiz, Odin, just be quiet and get in the water, will ya?

Oh, well, I shouldn’t make fun. The rest of the issue isn’t as cosmically wonderful as the previous story arcs have been, but it’s still great stuff. It’s one of several single issue stories that will run before we’re taken into another multi-issue tale. Thor has been going non-stop for a good twenty issues now, so I suppose Stan and Jack felt a few short stories might be in order to give both the Thunder God and the readers a brief respite.

It’s a solid story about a mysterious creature called The Growing Man, who starts out doll-sized, but gets a little bit bigger every time he’s attack, making him virtually unbeatable. It turns out he’s an artificial being buried in the 20th Century by Kang, hidden from enemies until it was time to use him in the far future. But his discovery by a scientific expedition upsets Kang’s plans.

Kang shows up to retrieve the Growing Man, shrinking him down to doll-size again before attempting to make a getaway in a time machine. But by now, Thor has returned to Earth, having sensed that the planet was in danger (and probably just as annoyed as I was by Odin’s portentous announcement about needing a bath).  Thor uses his hammer to wrap Kang’s time machine in a Universal Infinity Vortex, sending Kang and the Growing Man “beyond time and space.”

It’s a good issue, but it does suffer a little from being not quite as good as the magnificent stories that came just before it. Also, Thor pulling a brand new power out of his hat to wrap things up seemed a bit contrived.  Though, to be fair, he has used his hammer for to produce similar time-altering or time-travelling effects in the past, so perhaps it’s not that much of a cheat.

The “Tales of Asgard” story has Thor and the Warrriors Three fighting the giant Jinni, keeping him busy until nighttime. This causes the Jinni to evaporate, leaving the heroes free to enter Mogul’s fortress.

So Thor gets to fight TWO giant creatures in a single issue, which is kind of cool. But, though I hate to sound whiny, the ending here seems yet another small cheat. The Jinni’s weakness to darkness really needed to be established before the fight started, otherwise it just seems like a dues ex machina.

Once again, both stories are good, solid adventure yarns. They only suffer because Thor has gotten to be such a great book, merely average stories don’t seem quite good enough. It’s kind of like watching Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull—fine by itself, but inevitably suffering from comparison with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

That’s if for now. June 1967 will see the FF in their first throw-down against a Negative Zone villain; Spider Man fighting the two villains who have recently beaten him; and Thor fighting a powerful robot.

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