Wednesday, January 18, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: October 1968


Like FF #51, this is a classic issue that really tugs at the heartstrings. Ben is human again, intensely nervous as he leaves for a date with Alicia. In the meantime, Reed learns that the cosmic radiation infusing Sue might have an unknown effect on her pregnancy (foreshadowing the events of the upcoming Annual).

An android left over from the Mad Thinker’s last appearance is inadvertently activated by the cops who are putting it in storage. It goes on a pre-programmed mission that brings it into contact with Ben and Alicia. To save the girl he loves, Ben has to revert back into the Thing, even though Reed has warned him he would never be able to become human again.

Even though Ben’s plan for turning himself into the Thing again is a little bit contrived, the issue as a whole is a very strong one—reminding us that the whole “we’re a family” vibe inherent in the Fantastic Four is what makes it stand out from other team books. Stan and Jack continue to show that they perfectly understand the personalities of their characters and if your heart doesn’t go out to Ben in the last few panels… well, you’re just dead inside and probably beat up puppy dogs in your spare time.


An unconscious Spider Man is taken in by the cops, but Captain Stacy is on hand to tell them not to unmask his until they can check with the city lawyers about the legality of that.

I doubt that makes real-life legal sense, since I’m pretty sure if the cops bust you they can take your mask off regardless of the circumstances. But in a universe in which superheroes are common and accepted, the laws might very well be a little different. In the DC Universe, for instance, there’s a law that allows superheroes to testify in court without unmasking or giving away their secret ID. Something similar is very likely to exist in the Marvel Universe.

Anyway, this sets up the story. Spidey is able to rest up in the prison infirmary, getting over the worst of his injuries quickly due to his powers. So when a bunch of prisoners stage a jail break with Captain Stacy as hostage, he’s ready to take a hand.

The action unfolds in an interesting and entertaining way. In a straight fight, Spidey could put down a half-dozen thugs in a few seconds. But here he’s worried about Stacy’s safety, so he instead pretends to join in the jail break. When he gets an opportunity to do so, he rips out a fuse box to put out the lights. Then he takes the thugs out in ones or twos before they realize what’s happening.

When it’s over, Stacy is able to vouch for Spider Man, but still wants him to stay and face any charges against him. But Peter doesn’t want to risk being unmasked, so he makes a break for it.

There’s also a scene in which Harry is looking for his now missing father and another with Aunt May being increasingly worried about Peter. Aunt May is a great character and I don’t object to her at all, but this is another instant of Stan overusing her tendency to literally worry herself sick over Peter.

THOR #157

More great action as the Mangog storyline comes to a close.

For the past three or four issues, poor Balder has been fighting the magically enslaved minions of Karnilla, sicced on him because he stubbornly refuses to fall in love with her. But his courage breaks the spell on the minions and they join Balder in returning to Asgard to defend it, leaving the Queen of the Norns heartbroken and alone. (It’s a big month for heartbroken and alone characters.)

Meanwhile, Mangog continues his unstoppable advance on Asgard, defeating Thor, the Warriors Three, Balder and his crew, the armies of Asgard and at least one all-powerful weapon. Loki panics and flees Asgard, though that won’t do him any good if the whole universe is destroyed.

But just as Mangog is about to draw the Odinsword, Thor tries one last ploy, calling up a storm designed to wake up his dad. This works. Odin casually zaps Mangog out of existence. The billion billion souls who made up his strength come into existence again on a distant planet, having completed their penance for having once been evil conquerors.

You’d think that an ending like this would seem anti-climatic. Mangog curb-stomps just about every Asgardian in existence, only to have Odin defeat him by pretty much just casually waving a hand in his direction.

But it works. If Odin had “just happened” to wake up at a key moment, it might have seemed contrived. But his awakening was Thor’s doing, which was in turn an extension of the Thunder God’s refusal to quite even defeat seemed inevitable.

What makes this story a classic is a combination of Thor’s determination along with something I’ve stressed in the last few issues: The decision to use a lot of full page, half-page and quarter page panels to highlight Jack’s art here was exactly the right thing to do. One of Kirby’s strength is his ability to endow his images with a palpable feeling of raw power. This story arc is a textbook example of just how good he was at that.

That’s it for October. Next week, we'll take a look at that time Batman teamed up with... Superboy?  Then, in November1968, the FF helps out an old friend; Spider Man takes on an old enemy; and Thor flashes back to his origin.


  1. This is all well and good, even though it is lacking in Dr. Doom material. However, you are missed on the Realms.

  2. I've kind of lost track of HCRealms over Christmas. I'll return to posting there soon.

  3. Interesting stuff, just before I started reading. But I have the Spidey and FF stories in Masterworks.

  4. Wish I could afford the Masterworks!! But the Essential volumes are really cool even with the lack of color.

  5. I'm really enjoying your blog, Tim!

    The Mangog panel you posted is a good example of inker Vince Colletta erasing Kirby's pencils so as not to have to ink them. There are two figures at the bottom of the page in Kirby's pencils (a xerox of the page still exists) wiped out by Colletta's eraser.

  6. I knew Colletta had a habit of doing that, though I didn't know I was presenting an example of that here. Fortunately, Kirby's art still looks awesome, though the best inker for Kirby was probably always Art Simak.

  7. You may be thinking of Joe Sinnott as Kirby's best inker. Artie Simek was a letterer (I was going to write "only did lettering", but lettering's a lot of work!)

  8. You're right. I was mixing thier names up.


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