Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1968


Before dealing with this month’s FF adventure, we first gotta jump over the pages of Daredevil for a moment.

Dr. Doom is back and his latest nefarious scheme involves swapping bodies with Daredevil.  But Daredevil turns the tide on Doom by convincing Lavarian officials he’s the real Doom, then declaring war on the rest of the world. This forces Doom to switch their bodies back so he can put a stop to that.

But Doom uses a voice modulator to call Reed and, claiming to be Daredevil, tells him that the real Daredevil is really Doom.

I’ve always felt that the Daredevil stories from these years were often a little weak, but this was a fun and clever story.

That leads us into this month’s Fantastic Four.  Daredevil’s on his way to the Baxter Building to warn our heroes about Doom’s return. But Reed, Ben and Johnnie (Sue is still out of town) are getting ready to meet “Doom” head on when he “attacks.”

Daredevil runs into Spider Man and Spidey had earlier noticed a still de-powered Thor wandering around, so DD now has some allies on his side. The FF, though not completely sure, figure “Spidey” and “Thor” are probably Doombots. What follows are extended fight scenes (DD vs. Reed, Thor vs. Thing, Spidey vs. Torch) until Sue shows up to tell her husband he’s acting like an idiot. She just saw the real Doom holding a televised press conference and booked back to New York to put a stop to the fight.

The whole situation is pure fun. That Daredevil “just happened” to run across Spider Man and Thor is a little contrived, but it’s the sort of thing that happens quite often in a comic book universe.

Also, I do wonder why Spidey and Thor simply assumed DD was telling the truth about being real. Both are aware that stuff like body-swapping technology does exist in the world they inhabit.

But those are minor points. Stan Lee seemed to have gotten into a rhythm for the books he was writing, dropping in a few single-issue stories between extended story arcs. This actually worked quite well and, backed by Jack Kirby’s typically magnificent artwork, he gives us a cool fight scene between characters who would normally be allies.

On top of this, the dialogue between DD and Reed, debating over how the heck someone can prove he’s not a body-swapped imposter (taking place during their fight), was entertaining and interesting.


Well, while the Fantastic Four is having its “breather” before jumping into another multi-part epic, Spider Man is getting started with his next multi-part epic. Spidey’s “breather” was his fight-to-the-death against a Spider-Slayer last issue.

Peter finally shows up after being “missing” and supposedly kidnapped by Spider Man. Aunt May perks up immediately upon seeing him. Peter tells the cops what is actually a pretty good story—Spidey had amnesia; saw Peter taking photos; assumed he was an enemy and captured him; got his memory back and let Pete go.  In a comic book universe, it’s a perfectly reasonable story. It’s a nice wrap-up to the amnesia story arc and it brings an end to Aunt May’s latest brush with death (something Stan Lee was leaning on a little bit too often).

It also gives Peter a chance to overhear the cops talking about how a lot of dangerous thugs were getting bailed out of jail. In addition, he meets Captain Stacy for the first time and learns that Stacy has made a special study of Spider Man.

But on with the story. Mary Jane has gotten a job dancing at a new club. But the place is really part of a plot to lure city officials there and brainwash them. When Peter and his friends are there one night, he notices something suspicious and investigates. This leads to the first of many, many, many occasions in which Mary Jane is rescued from certain death by Spider Man.

Spidey eventually fights his way to the back room of the club, where he finds Captain Stacy being brainwashed. The final panel is the big reveal—the Kingpin turns out to be behind the whole thing.

I’m getting to the point where I’m almost wishing John Romita or Jack Kirby would have an off issue. I’m repeating myself so often in abject praise of their art that I’m starting to sound like a broken record.

But Romita, darn him, does do another magnificent job here. Mary Jane looks gorgeous enough to make it completely believable that she’s a hit as a professional dancer and the action sequences flow smoothly and logically, providing perfect support for the plot of the story.

THOR #151

This issue takes only a moment to sum up, because it’s pretty much an all-battle issue. Thor is in New York fighting the Destroyer (animated by Sif’s life force and with her unable to control the robot’s instinct to destroy). Back in Karnilla’s realm, she makes a play for Balder—having the hots for Balder will pretty much be her primary motivation in future stories. But he rejects her. But when Ulik (powered up by enchantments from the troll king) shows up to do her in as part of his plan to re-establish himself as the baddest dude in the Seven Realms, Karnilla and Balder are forced to team up. The issue ends with Thor still facing off against the indestructible robot and Balder facing off against Ulik.

And darn Jack Kirby, too. He continues to make it look awesome, so I’m forced to repeat myself again.

While all this is going on, one of Odin’s wizards reestablishes a video link with Earth. But it turns out all-knowing Odin already knew his son was in a life-and-death fight. He explains his plan all along has been to teach Thor some humility. That’s apparently been accomplished, so he gives Thor his powers back. The Thunder God is still facing off against an opponent more powerful than he is, but it’s not quite the mismatch it had been.

I mentioned recently that I hadn’t read this story arc in years and accused Odin of acting like an idiot—the one major flaw in an otherwise sound plot. But I also realized he might have a secret plan behind it all that’s I’d simply forgotten about.

Well, it turns out that Odin DID have a master plan that I’d forgotten about, but all the same, I’m going to continue to defend my “Odin is an idiot” premise.

The whole trouble is that Thor HAD NOT BEEN ACTING ARROGANT OR FULL OF HIMSELF. He hadn’t. Over and over again, he’s been using his powers intelligently and bravely to defend the Earth, Asgard and those weaker than him. Even when he argued with his dad, it was usually because he wanted to return to Earth to protect a world he loved. Odin was teaching him something he already seemed to know.

Heck, the recent Thor movie (which I thought was flawed, but still enjoyed) handled this aspect of the story better than here. It had Thor initially acting without thought and with over-confident arrogance, making his epiphany about humility and service to others have real impact later on.

Though these past issues have handled epic-level action much better than the movie did, I gotta say that Odin’s actions are very contrived. It simply comes across as random. “Ah, it’s Wednesday. Time to teach my son an unnecessary lesson in humility. On Friday, I’ll teach him how to throw a baseball.”

That’s why I didn’t remember Odin’s motivation. It’s because it didn’t make any sense.

Oh, well, perfect stories are rare. This one still rates a 9.3, with great action, a plot unfolding on several levels at once and some nice character moments for Sif and Balder.

That’s it for April. Next week, I’m going to feature a guest writer’s look at the Justice League of America’s first mission. We’ll return to the Marvel Universe in two weeks, when the Fantastic Four will again face off against a certain planet-eating foe; Gwen Stacy’s dad goes on a crime spree; and Thor has a rematch against his butt-ugliest opponent.


  1. this issue of Spider-man was also adapted into one of the episodes of the 60s cartoon- "The Big Brainwasher". MJ is in this one, but she looks a bit like Gwen.

  2. Thanks for the heads-up on that. I just took a look at a clip from that episode on YouTube. I agree--MJ didn't look a whole lot like MJ.


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