Wednesday, February 8, 2012
History of the Marvel Universe: 1968 Annuals
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #6
Sue’s about to give birth, but the cosmic energy in her is still endangering both her and the child.
But Reed has a plan. He’s figured out that a specific element can be used to ensure safety of both mother and child. But, since this is the Fantastic Four, the element exists only in the Negative Zone.
I love this set-up. The FF isn’t frantically working to save the Earth from destruction. They are frantically working to save members of their family. It reminds me of FF #19, where they traveled back in time to ancient
to find something that might cure Alicia’s blindness. Egypt
And, of course, a trip to a place like the Negative Zone is a perfect opportunity to let Jack Kirby’s imagination run wild. The whole issue looks… well, fantastic.
Reed, Ben and Johnny run into Annihilus for the first time—the alien villain with a bad habit of trying to kill pretty much everyone else in existence to ensure his own immortality.
Reed soon realizes that Annihilus’ main weapon—his Cosmic Control Rod—it what he needs to save Sue. I’ll skip the details of the plot: without Kirby’s visuals, a plot synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. Suffice to say that the boys make it back with a little bit of the energy from Annihilus’s Control Rod siphoned off. Sue is saved and the baby (it’s a BOY!!) is born healthy. It’s only much later that we find out the kid is (at least on occasion) an all-powerful god.
The story drips with an intensity that a lot of “save the world” stories don’t equal. Making it personal—making it about a husband and father desperately trying to save his family—gives this tale an extra emotional oomph that makes it one of Lee and Kirby’s true classics.
SPIDER MAN ANNUAL #5
It looks like 1968 was the year for superheroes to spend their Annual adventures dealing with personal problems rather than save the world.
Peter’s helping Aunt May clean out the attic when he stumbles across an old newspaper clipping. To his shock, he learns that his parents were traitors to their country—evidence proving this was found on their bodies after they were killed in a plane crash.
Peter doesn’t want to accept this, so he bums a ride to
from Reed Richards and begins investigating. Soon, he’s hip-deep in assassins trying to do him in. The Red Skull turns out to be heading up spy activities in that area and Spider Man confronts him at his secret HQ. Algiers
It’s a fun story—though Peter has an awfully easy time uncovering the Skull’s secret hideout. It kind of makes you wonder what SHIELD, the CIA or MI6 had been doing for the past couple of decades.
And it’s really more of an action tale than a spy/intrigue story anyways. The plot drives along on the strength of its fight scenes: Spidey vs. gang of assassins; Spidey vs. the Skull’s top legbreaker; Spidey vs. a top assassin armed with a guided missile launcher; Spidey vs. the Red Skull himself. And artist Mickey Demeo does a fine job in blocking out good fight scenes.
In the end, Peter finds the evidence he needs to clear his parents—they were actually working FOR the USA as undercover spies.
So, like Reed and Sue’s story, we get a happy ending this time around. The Parker Luck isn ‘t always bad.
That’s it for the annuals. Next week, we’ll finish off 1968.
By the way, I’m considering interspersing this series not just with the occasional random comic reviews, but also with a chronological look at the Superman stories of the late 1950s and early 1960s—when editor Mort Weisinger started expanding the Superman universe to include other Kryptonians, superheroes from the future and the occasional super-pet. Leave a comment if you think you might enjoy this.