Wednesday, January 4, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1968


Two stories parallel each other this issue. The Silver Surfer returns to Earth and offers his services to Galactus. Released from his exile, he quickly finds a lifeless but energy-rich planet half-way across the galaxy. Galactus heads off to the planet to have lunch, but also zaps the Surfer back to Earth, exiling him again. Galactus’ cruel but logical thought is that someday he might need the Surfer again, so he puts his sometimes Herald where he can find him again.

It’s a pretty sudden and perhaps slightly anti-climatic end to the Galactus story arc. But it gives Jack Kirby a chance to draw the Surfer zipping through an interstellar setting, which is justification enough for any plot twist.

We also get a blurb reminding us that the Surfer now has his own monthly book. We might take a look at an issue or two of that series at some point in the series. But its interesting to note that Jack Kirby was not the artist (though John Buscema did a superb job), nor did Jack get a credit for creating the Surfer. It’s one of the factors that would cause him to leave Marvel just a few more years down the road.

But for now, we must look back at Reed, Ben and Johnnie, who are still back in the microverse. They have a typically cool fight against Psycho-Man and eventually come out on top, but then Reed calls the fight off. He reminds the villain that the microverse will be destroyed along with Earth, so perhaps he should let the FF return to Earth to oppose Galactus. Psycho-Man agrees.

That gives us two anti-climaxes for the price of  had one. Gee whiz, Reed, if you weren’t going to finish off Psycho-Man, why did you choose to stay and fight when you could have just left at the end of the last issue anyways?

Jack Kirby’s awesome layouts and magnificent sci-fi gadgetry pretty much saves the day again, but this otherwise great story arc does limp to the finish line after stumbling over a rather large plot hole.


Adrian Toomes, the original Vulture, is supposed to be dead. But this is a comic book universe, so he isn’t really. Though he bequeathed his wings to Blackie Drago back in Spider Man #48 while on his death bed, he later got better. He managed to fake his death in a fire and sneak out of jail.

Now he’s healthy again and back in his Vulture costume. He breaks Drago out of jail to use him as an assistant, but Drago doesn’t want to be second fiddle to anyone. So the two men, both now in Vulture costumes, begin an aerial battle over New York City.

Peter Parker sees this, but he (in a brilliantly prosaic moment) had injured his shoulder the night before when his webbing failed to stick to the side of a building during a rainstorm. So he sits the fight out and soon finds himself on the roof of the Daily Bugle with J.J.J. taking pictures of it instead.

But when the fight endangers a small boy, Peter changes into Spider Man and leaps into action despite his injured shoulder. He saves the boy while the inexperienced Drago is beaten into submission and then arrested by the cops. The issue ends with Vulture attacking Spidey.

It’s a great issue. Most of the action centers around two villains fighting each other, with the webslinger only jumping in near the end. That makes for a fun change-of-pace. And, as usual, Stan Lee manages to fit in some good character moments with the supporting cast: Gwen still isn’t speaking to Peter; Captain Stacy wants to talk to Peter about something; and Norman Osborne has increasingly vivid dreams about the Green Goblin.

THOR #155

Mangog continues his march to Asgard, determined to draw the Odinsword and thus destroy the universe. He easily whips some storm giants, decimates a whole bunch of Asgardian warriors and imprisons the Warriors Three inside a mountain he just sort of shoves together around them. His gradual approach to Asgard will continue to help build suspense throughout the next several issues.

Stan and Jack do a nice job in building up just how powerful Mangog is, showing him casually smacking down giants and whacking aside mountains. We also learn his origin—a race doomed by Odin had transferred all their strength into Mangog, so he has the strength of a “billion, billion beings.” He’s as strong as 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 people, which is pretty darn strong.

Thor and a now-healthy Sif return to Asgard. (Balder tries to return as well, but is busy fighting Karnilla’s soldiers. That girl just doesn’t take no for an answer!) Loki’s on the throne while Odin still sleeps, but he’s just dividing his time between ordering his enemies on suicide missions to fight Mangog or whining about how Asgard doesn’t stand a chance.

Thor rides out to fight Mangog, only to be caught apparently helpless in the creature’s grasp as the issue ends.

Stan and Jack were apparently very aware of how much making this story work depended on Jack’s visuals being even more epic than usual. There are three full page splash panels in this issue and a large proportion of oversized panels on other pages. This may in part have been to draw the story out over more issues, but it really works in terms of effective storytelling. It’s a bigger-than-life story with bigger-than-life characters. The use of large panels endows everything with more power while making all the detail that Kirby could crowd into a panel look even cooler than it usually does. This is one of the top-ten Thor story arcs of all time and a prime example of how Jack Kirby’s art—when he was at his prime and allowed to indulge his cosmic-powered imagination—was quite simply made of awesome.

That’s if for August. In September 1968, Ben Grimm will get a chance to be human again; Spidey and Vulture go at it for an entire issue; and Thor and a few friends fight a hopeless battle.

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