Wednesday, January 11, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1968


Reed, Ben and Johnnie get back from the Microverse and see that the world is safe. But there’s no rest for the weary—the Wizard has been released from prison and is plotting revenge.

I’ve mentioned this before in similar situations—considering how compressed comic book time is, prison sentence for major crimes in the Marvel Universe seem to only be a couple of weeks long. “Wizard, you’re guilty of multiple attempts to commit mass murder!! I’m throwing the book at you. You are sentenced to… NINE DAYS OF HARD LABOR!!!”

Actually, I’m not really complaining. Comic book time is supposed to be elastic, flowing as quickly or as slowly as a particular plot requires. It’s an established convention of the genre that’s easily accepted.

Anyway, Reed has found a way to turn Ben human again. He does so, but the Wizard attacks soon afterwards (coming in through a hole in the wall made eight issues ago that Reed simply hasn’t had time to fix yet).  The villain is armed with power gloves that contain a variety of weapons and a force field. With Ben de-powered, he soon gets the advantage on the FF.

It’s yet another expertly choreographed fight scene, with Johnny given the spotlight as he manages to outwit and defeat the bad guy. That’s a nice touch in of itself. Another cool moment involves Ben, who in the heat of the moment forgets that he no longer has super strength and unsuccessfully tries to snatch up a heavy piece of equipment to throw at Wizard.

The Wizard pulls off a last minute escape when he realizes he’s beaten. Ben, who was earlier moping around because he was the Thing, is now moping around because he’s useless in a fight. 

There’s some great character moments here—most notably a moment when Reed is silently but desperately praying that he can finally cure his friend.

My one complaint is a completely subjective one. It’s something that’s always bothered me a little, but Ben feels he’s useless to the team when he’s human. Fair enough by itself. But he’s not useless, is he?

In a storyline from the 1970s, a cured Ben spent a number of issues in a Thing exoskeleton, but even that’s not really necessary. Think about it. Ben’s a highly trained pilot and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant. He’s a combat veteran, having fought in World War II (though that last detail would be retconned in later years due to the inevitable passage of time). How hard would it be for Reed to whip up some body armor and non-lethal weaponry to supplement these skills?

Ben’s got courage, intelligence, applicable skills and a sense of decency roughly the size of a solar system.  That he might feel a few moments of uselessness after the fight with the Wizard is understandable, but a few seconds thought and planning by the guy standing next to him—who happens to be the SMARTEST MAN ON THE PLANET—should have taken care of that.

But, as I said, that’s a subjective opinion. The story has great action and hits all the right character notes, so I can’t really properly call my opinion a complaint.


Spidey, with one arm injured, takes on the Vulture in a rooftop fight that lasts pretty much the entire issue. As Kirby is doing in Thor at the same time, Romita is making use of a high proportion of oversized panels to carry the action along. 

It’s a very effective visual slant, giving us a real sense of the battlefield and never letting us forgot just how high up the two combatants are. The fight also gets a lot of cool emotional mileage out of reminding us that Peter simply does NOT give up.

This is apparently a month in which supervillains with damaged suits make last minute getaways. Vulture does this after Spidey damages his suit’s power pack.

But the fight has taken a lot out of Peter. The issue ends with a great cliffhanger—Spider Man is unconscious and at the mercy of the crowd.

There are a few character moments squeezed in. Gwen finally realizes that Peter didn’t betray or attack her dad while Captain Stacy was brainwashed.

And—curse you, Stan and John!!! You’re making me comment on… on… a girl’s HAIR STYLE!!!

I’m gonna lose my man card forever, but here goes: Mary Jane gets a hair cut and a perm. And it looks absolutely hideous!!!! 

Stan Lee has been quoted as saying that they tried for years to make Gwen more interesting than Mary Jane, but never succeeded. I wonder if this was an early attempt to give Gwen an edge. I can’t believe John Romita, who is no stranger to making the women he draws look drop-dead gorgeous, thought this was a good idea.

Well, that’s done. I’ve commented on a woman’s hair style. No one is to ever speak of this again.

THOR #156

The fight against Mangog continues, with Thor and the Warriors Three ripping up the landscape for miles around in a vain attempt to stop the powerful creature. They manage to slow Mangog up a tad, but that’s about all they accomplish.

Like this month’s Spider Man, this issue is pretty much one long fight scene, with a few brief asides sandwiched in. Most importantly, Balder is still fighting for his life against Karnilla’s minions and the Recorder (the robot observer from Rigel who traveled with Thor for a time) comes to Asgard to record the attempt to stop Mangog.

There’s not much more to add that I didn’t mention in reviewing last issue. Jack Kirby again uses a lot of oversize panels and several splash pages to give the whole issue a sense of raw power.

And I don’t know if we’ve ever seen Thor as powerful as he is here—using not just his strength and his hammer, but also his weather control abilities turned up to eleven in a vain attempt to defeat Mangog.  All really cool stuff. My personal favorite Thor storyline was the one involving Hercules and Pluto that ran in issues 125-130. But the Mangog story, which literally overflows with visual awesomeness, comes in a really close second.

That’s it for September. In October, Ben Grimm makes an important decision; Spider Man leads a mass jail break; and the warriors of Asgard continue to get the collective snot beat out of them.

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