Wednesday, October 26, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1968


I’m not sure how long its been since I’ve last read through this particular story arc, but I’d forgotten just how cool it is. The story continues moving along at emergency warp speed, with Reed and Johnnie leading a squad of police in a raid on one of the Mad Thinker’s hideouts.

They fight through killer androids and super-scientific traps until Reed ends it all by simply beating the snot out of the Thinker. The scientist the Thinker had impersonated is rescued (though not before saving Reed’s life just before the climatic fist fight).

In fact, all the good guys—both title characters and extras—come out looking pretty good. One of the many enjoyable things about this particular action sequences is that the cops get in on the action as well, gunning down their share of killer androids.

Reed is battered and bruised, but there’s no rest of the heroic. Ben, still brainwashed, busts in to have it out with his former best friend. Reed lures him back to the Baxter Building and manages to zap him with a “menta-ray.” As the issue ends, Sue finds Reed and Johnnie unconscious, Ben apparently dead and a big android busting in through the wall.

The android was sent by remote control by the Thinker, who used a device hidden in his wrist watch to activate the artificial being.

As wonderful as this issue is, that bit does come across as a contrivance. Come on—you live in a comic book universe; you’re throwing a mad scientist into a jail cell; and you DON’T take every single device he’s carrying—not matter how harmless it might be---away from him? For gosh sakes, you take wrist watches away from guys you’re tossing in the drunk tank!

Oh, well, still a great issue, leading up to an equally action-packed conclusion next issue. Despite a weak plot point or two (how Ben finds Reed is also a bit weak), the combination of great action with strong characterizations make this another high point of the Lee/Kirby era.


Once again, I realize that an amnesia plot is one of the biggest clichés out there, but this is a fun story nonetheless. Doc Ock, along with Spider Man and a henchman (whose job seems to be shouting out expository dialogue) get away from the cops and arrive at one of Ock’s hideouts.

The Nullifier overheats and the villainous scientist realizes a sample of rare isotope needs to be stolen from an army base to repair it. He sends Spider Man to do the job.

Spidey isn’t sure he really is a crook, but goes along with it until he can get his memory back. He manages to get the isotope, but subconsciously leaves behind a clue that brings the army to the hideout. Doctor Octopus and his men are captured after Spidey refuses to help him any longer. The webslinger slings off, still without his memory.

There’s a few minor plot holes along the way, but nothing that really interferes with the fun. And it’s nifty to see the army unit that raids Ock’s hideout acting effectively and intelligently. Between them and the cops in Fantastic Four, it’s an impressive month for government employees.

The issue also includes a scene with Aunt May and Peter’s friends, all of whom are beginning to get worried about the fact that no one’s seen him in days. Gwen calls her dad, a police captain who has just come out of retirement to help deal with Doctor Octopus. And so we meet Captain George Stacy for the first time—a man who’ll be playing an important role in Spider Man’s life.

THOR #148

Last month’s lightning bolt from Odin takes away the powers of Loki, Balder and Sif, since all three are on Earth without permission. The threat of having to face Thor on equal terms convinces Loki to slink away.

We get a great scene in which Thor and his two Asgardian comrades take refuge in Dr. Blake’s office, eating food delivered from a local deli.

Loki, in the meantime, tries to summon up the Norn Queen, an old ally of his, to get zapped with magic power.

I don’t think the Norn Queen’s been given a proper name yet, but this is Karnilla, the sometimes villain with a crush on Balder. We first met her in a “Tales of Asgard” feature some 39 issues ago. I’m pretty sure this is the first time we’ve seen her since then.

She only hangs out for a couple of panels, though, taking part in a bizarre supervillain origin that somehow manages to be goofy and awesome at the same time.

Follow along closely. Loki summons Karnilla. But before she arrives, a crowbar-wielding crook named the Wrecker breaks into Loki’s hotel room. (By the way, did Loki have some Asgardian gold on him to pay for the room, or does he take the precaution of carrying a credit card with him just in case?)

The Wrecker knocks out Loki and decides to try on the god of mischief’s weird helmet. Karnilla pops in, sees the Wrecker, thinks he’s Loki, zaps him with magic and pops out.

I love it.

Anyway, the Wrecker gets the hang of superpowers pretty quick, zapping Loki “back where ya came from, fink!” He goes on a power-mad rampage, zapping Balder and Sif back to Asgard as well when they put in an appearance.

That leaves Thor alone to fight the super-powered thug. The Thunder God still has his strength, but the Wrecker gradually manages to get the upper hand. Back in Asgard, Balder and Sif are pleading with Odin to interfere, but the All-Father is still in idiot-mode and refuses to intercede.

Gee whiz, I hope Odin isn’t looking down from Asgard, watching me write this. I’ve been pretty hard on him in the last few reviews. It’s been years since I’ve read this particular story arc and I’m writing the review for each issue without reading ahead. If it turns out Odin has had some clever plan all along that I’ve simply forgotten about, I’m likely to get myself exiled to Jutenheim.

So if I suddenly stop posting on this blog, you’ll all know why.

Besides, Odin’s poor decision making skills doesn’t stop this from being an exciting story with some typically awesome Jack Kirby action scenes.

That’s if for now. Next week, we’ll visit the DC Universe again to see just how many detectives you can fit into a single issue of Detective Comics. In two weeks, we’ll get to February 1968, as the Fantastic Four battles a whopping big android; Spider Man battles a whopping big saber tooth tiger; and Thor gets hit with a whopping big crowbar.

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