Wednesday, November 9, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1968


As the cover promises, this is an big action issue. And it is wonderful action—with a fight that stands out even among Jack Kirby’s many other examples of perfectly paced fight choreography. It’s an example of how well both Stan and Jack understood the characters—both in terms of personality and in terms of how these now very experienced fighters would use their powers.

Sue faces off against the Thinker’s giant android alone, while the rest of the team is unconscious. Using her invisibility and force field powers intelligently—and making use of one of Reed’s devices—she protects herself and the others long enough for Ben to wake up.

Ben is back to normal after being hit by Reed’s Menta-Wave Bolt at the end of the last issue. (As those of us knew who paid attention in high school when they covered the properties of Menta-Wave Bolts in science class). He belts the android through a wall, but is attempting to comfort a fainting Sue when Reed wakes up.

In a great scene, Reed thinks Ben is still brainwashed and about to hurt his wife, which sets off Reed’s berserk button.

This gets worked out pretty quickly, but the android returns. Reed, Ben and Johnny all get some shots in, but the android seems to have countermeasures built in for just about everything they try. So Reed lures it into the Negative Zone, setting it adrift forever.

So four issues of breathless action finally comes to an end, wrapping up a storyline that can be favorably compared to the original Galactus story arc in terms of action, pacing and characterizations.

But the issue still manages to end in a surprise. Reed has decided that he won’t put his pregnant wife in danger again—he and Sue will be quitting the Fantastic Four.

Yeah, sure, Reed. Like that’s gonna last very long.


Spider Man, still without a memory, is aimlessly webslinging around town. Aunt May literally worries herself sick over Peter’s disappearance and ends up in the hospital.

(You know, I like Aunt May—she’s a great character. But in retrospect, the “Aunt May is on her death bed!” schtick was sometimes overused.)

Harry Osborne is also worried about his missing roommate. He finds a Spider Tracer in Peter’s room and goes to the police with the news that Pete’s been kidnapped by Spider Man.

In other words, Peter Parker is having a really, really bad day. It gets worse when Lord Plunder—better known as Ka-Zar—visits New York to settle some legal affairs (bringing Zabu along with him, of course).

Jameson visits Ka-Zar and manages to talk him into stalking Spider Man. When the two heroes meet, they fight. Zabu joins in as well and the issue ends with Spider Man knocked unconscious.

Getting Ka-Zar into the story comes across as a little contrived—he instinctively distrusts JJJ and really doesn’t have a strong motive for getting involved. But since John Romita provides us with a really cool fight, we’ll forgive this.

Besides, another plus for this issue is a great scene in which Spider Man stops by the Daily Bugle, hoping a newspaper will have some information on who he is. Jameson comes within a second of conning the memory-impaired hero that he’s a friend and should take off his mask when Ka-Zar dives in through a window to attack the webslinger.

Ka-Zar: “You TOLD me to catch Spider Man!”

JJJ: “But I didn’t mean right now!”

A lot of the supporting characters—including Gwen and her dad—get some good moments in this issue. By now, John Romita has been doing the book for nearly two years. With absolutely no disrespect for Steve Ditko’s incredible work intended, I have to say that there was no drop in quality at all after he left.

Stan Lee is a great storyteller, but he was also enormously fortunate in the artists he worked with.

THOR #149

Thor and the Wrecker spend most of the issue going toe-to-toe (in yet another fight that just happens to take place near a condemned building). With Thor minus all his powers except his strength, he’s still at a disadvantage. But he’s Thor—so he fights on even when it seems he can’t win.

Well, it’s Jack Kirby art. So by definition it’s an awesome-looking fight. Yes, Stan really, really was fortunate in his artists.

Back in Asgard, Balder and Sif watch the fight via a mystic crystal. They go to Odin and convince him to take a look and see that Thor’s life is very much in danger. But when Odin gets to the crystal chamber, the crystal is gone.

Balder quickly deduces that Loki took it to keep Odin from realizing that Thor needs help. He also correctly deduces that Loki is now hiding out with the crystal in the dangerous Norn forest.

I’m not sure how Balder knew this last part. Loki seems to have all his powers back, so he presumably has all time and space in which to hide. Oh, well, I’m not an Asgardian god. Maybe Balder has some inside knowledge.

The issue ends with Thor defeated and presumably dead.

Which brings us to the end of February. In March 1968, the FF will tangle with the Power Cosmic; Spider Man will tangle with J. Jonah Jamison (in direct combat, no less); and Thor will tangle with the goddess of the afterlife.

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