Wednesday, February 15, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1968


With Sue now a brand-new mommy, Crystal announces that she wants to join the FF as her replacement. Reed isn’t sure, but when the Wizard (with newly-improved “Wonder Gloves” equipped with multiple weapons) attacks, Crystal gets to prove herself in a baptism of fire.

There’s not a lot to analyze. The bulk of the issue is one of Jack Kirby’s typically cool fight scenes. But that fight is constructed to highlight Crystal’s skill at using her powers, her quick intelligence and her keen sense of battle tactics. It’s mostly her efforts that give the FF an edge in the battle and send the Wizard running off like a crying school girl.

It’s a simply but effective story, introducing us to the idea that Crystal is going to be an active member of the team for awhile and allowing her to prove both to Reed and to the readers that she’s got the chops to hold up her end of things.


Spidey’s has apparently been shrunk down to about 6 inches by Mysterio, which traps the webslinger in a scale-model amusement park full of death traps.

But this is Mysterio—so it’s not a surprising plot twist when it all turns out to be illusion and post-hypnotic suggestion. Spider Man slams past one death trap after another until he is able to overcome the illusion and smack down the villain.

Romita gives us another great fight scene. This is an unusual one—Spidey’s apparent size change and the need to both punch and think his way out of successive traps give this one a different vibe from the usual action sequences. And that’s just fine, because Romita makes very effective use of the weird visual perspectives inherent in the situation to give us something just a little bit different.

The pacing of the Spider Man stories also continues to be notable. Lee and Romita have by now developed a real talent to break away from the action a few times without seeming to slow the story down. This keeps us caught up on the various supporting characters and introduces us to Robbie Robertson’s son Randy.

You know, I haven’t mentioned this yet—because it doesn’t stand out as such a big deal nearly a half-century later. But, in 1968, portraying a black man as an intelligent and respected authority figure and now portraying him as a caring and capable father was still something of a big deal. Robbie has always been a strong addition to Spidey’s cast of supporting characters and it’s important to note just how innovative a character he was when he was first introduced.

THOR #159

Odin decides that it is indeed time to tell Donald Blake exactly what his connection with Thor is.

And it’s a good one. As a young man, Thor was brave and powerful, but lacked humility. We see him getting into an unnecessary fight with storm giants and then (along with the Warriors Three) starting a tavern brawl.

So Odin decides to temporarily wipe his memory and send him to Earth with an implanted identity. He becomes a young medical student named Donald Blake. His hammer is hidden away in a cave until it’s fated for him to find it again.

Reading the early Thor stories really gives the impression that, at first, Lee and Kirby were presuming that Donald Blake simply gained the powers of Thor. But as other Asgardians were introduced and Thor took on his own personality, that explanation no longer held water. I’d be curious to know how much of that character progression was planned and how much of it just sort of happened. My impression is it just sort of happened, but I really don’t know one way or another. (I wish I still owned a copy of the old Origins of Marvel Comics, though I don’t remember if Stan went into that aspect of Thor’s creation.)

So, by now, there really needed to be some clarification of Thor’s double identity. This issue comes up with a great explanation. And it gives Jack Kirby an excuse to draw Thor beating the snot out of storm giants. That’s pretty much the definition of win-win.

That’s it for December 1968. Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the Lone Ranger’s comic book adventures from Gold Key Comics. In two weeks, we’ll begin 1969. The Fantastic Four will pay a visit to the Inhumans; Spider Man goes up against the Kingpin yet again; and Thor takes a trip into deep space with an old friend.

1 comment:

  1. that Spider-man story was adapted for the swinging 60s cartoon, though Mysterio was purple skinned. darn that Bakshi!


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