Wednesday, December 21, 2011

History of the Marvel Universe: July 1968


Reed, Ben and Johnnie use a Reducta-Craft to shrink to microscopic size and pursue the Silver Surfer. The Surfer, though, unaware that Galactus is actively threatening Earth and having fun exploring a new (albeit sub-atomic) universe, refuses to go back.

This is all interrupted when Psycho-Man, who is back home in Sub-Atomica after his fight with the FF in last year’s Annual, spots them and sends an indestructible android to destroy them.

Our heroes are getting their butts handed to them until the Surfer shows up and pretty casually disintegrates the android. Now aware that Earth is in danger, he agrees to return and once again serve Galactus, even though this means sacrificing a happy life cruising around Sub-Atomica. The FF, though, opts not to follow him back immediately, instead staying in Sub-Atomica to have a showdown with Psycho-Man.

This is a strong issue in yet another fast-moving and imaginative story arc, but I’m going to pick a couple of small nits here.

Though the fight against the Android is pretty cool, this is the second indestructible android the FF has fought in a relatively short period of time. A slightly more original opponent might have been more effective. Stan and Jack might have had an infinitesimal failure of imagination here.

Of course, to be fair, I’m reading this issues over a much shorter time frame then when they were originally published, so that criticism might not be completely fair. Besides, Kirby’s sub-atomic landscapes pretty much drip with imagination.

Second nitpick: Reed simply “knows” the android was sent by Psycho-Man without any explanation. Once again, it can be argued that he might have deduced this from the information on hand. After all, he’s Reed "smartest guy in the universe" Richards. But the rules of good storytelling meant we should have been provided with a definite explanation.

But these are definitely nitpicks. It’s a great issue, with the emotional highlight being when Reed orders Ben and Johnnie to retreat and find the Surfer in order to save Earth, even though that would mean Reed going up against the android alone.


Here we have another single issue story used as a break before another multi-part story arc begins. Last time, it was Spidey fighting a Spider Slayer robot. This time, he gets into a tussle with an Inhuman.

Because it’s John Romita doing the art, it looks great (though I don’t really care for Medusa’s new costume design—but that’s a totally subjective opinion). But the story itself is contrived.

Medusa visits New York to gauge how humans will react to Inhumans. Of course, there’s so many costumed superheroes running around New York, there’s no reason the Inhumans’ would stand out at all.

But, be that as it may, this results in a fight between Medusa and Spider Man, engineered by a publicity-hungry hair-spray company executive. Gee whiz, contrived isn’t a strong enough word to describe the plot, but I can’t really think of a better one.

Oh, well. The next seven or eight issues will be covering the events of three separate and well-written story arcs, culminating in another classic Spidey/Kingpin fight. So we can be forgiving of one awkward issue.

And besides, Romita really does make it look great.

THOR #154

Ulik stumbles across a cave that was sealed up by Odin many centuries ago. He busts the cave open, releasing Mangog, a being with the strength of a billion billion men. Mangog, grouchy after all that time trapped in a cave, vows to destroy the universe. And, judging from Jack Kirby’s wonderfully creepy design of the character, he’s just the guy to do it.

Loki returns to Asgard, where he finds everyone aware of the danger, but Odin is suffering from the ultimate plot devise—Odinsleep. So Loki declares that he’s in charge.

The rest of the issue is filler, to bring it to an end at an appropriately dramatic moment. Thor, still on Earth, is tempted by Hela to come to the afterlife and lead the dead heroes already there in eternal battle; he checks to make sure Sif is recovering; he stops some muggers; and he gives some hippies a talking to about living their lives for a cause rather than simply dropping out. In the meantime, Karnilla threatens to turn Balder into a living statues (as she’s done with other guys who have rejected her over the years) unless he gives her a little sugar. But Kirby makes is all look awesome, so it doesn’t feel like filler.

Besides, though Stan Lee’s dialogue for Thor might be a little over the top when he talks to the hippies, it’s still a strong and effective speech that really gives us a sharp reminder of Thor’s inherently noble personality.

That’s it for July. Next week, we'll take a look at a time when Batman truly was made of AWESOME. In two weeks we'll look at August 1968; in which the FF confront Psycho-Man while the Silver Surfer negotiates with Galactus; Spider Man discovers that two birds in the hand are more dangerous than one in the bush; and Thor faces off against Mangog. 

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