Wednesday, March 28, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1969


The FF are still prisoners in the superficially idyllic village, kept powerless and frightened by regular doses of hypnotism. In the meantime, Doom is perfected a dozen powerful robots, at one point allowing a couple of rebels to “escape” and steal a tank in order to test one of the robots against them.

Like the previous issue, this one takes time to look at Dr. Doom, with scenes that emphasize his self-destructive pride and arrogance. When the scientist helping with the robots (a former Nazi) tells him he rivals the Red Skull in brilliance, Doom nearly strangles him the suggestion that the Skull might be smarter.

Doom has also learned to look at his unmasked face without freaking out. He’s having his portrait painted, convinced that soon the whole world will have to look at this image after he has set himself up to rule over them all.

But Doom builds his stuff TOO well. He’s planning on testing the robots again by having them attack and destroy the village in which the FF is imprisoned. But they have been programmed to be so aggressive that they break out of their lab ahead of schedule and march on their target.  The FF see them coming, but seem helpless to do anything about it.

It’s all good stuff. The actual plot moves along only a little bit, but the character moments involving Doom are what make up the backbone of this story arc.

Also, back in the States, Sue is going house shopping in the suburbs. She needs an isolated house, so as not to endanger innocents if a supervillain attacks them. That she has been living atop a crowded skyscraper in the middle of New York City is not mentioned.

The real estate guy shows her an abandoned underground house of unknown origin. Sue considers buying it—which is not her finest moment. When you live in a comic book universe, any oddly designed and abandoned house of unknown origin should automatically be suspect.

Seriously, Sue. You live in a world where magic, monsters and ancient curses abound; where we’re invaded by aliens every other Tuesday; where certain characters seemed fated to run into trouble no matter where they go. If the realtor says “Odd abandoned house of unknown origin,” just automatically say “NO SALE!”

Spider Man #71

Things start to look up for Peter. He finds out Jameson simply had a bad shock—not a heart attack—when Spider Man scared him. Pictures he took of his fight with Kingpin seem to exonerate him. And, with Jameson in the hospital, Robbie pays him a really good fee for those photos.

But he’s Spider Man, so trouble soon comes up. Over in the Avengers, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch had become involved with Magneto again in a way that made it appear they might have once more become bad guys. Quicksilver decides a way of redeeming them might be to capture a wanted criminal. You know, like Spider Man.

The two have a nifty fight, but Spidey manages to pull out a win and then convince Pietro he’s not a crook.

I like the balance the last few issues have had. Peter has been having a really rotten time lately. And, of course, that’s part of the character’s appeal—that life often deals him a 3 of clubs when he needs an ace. But occasional issues like this one, where he gets a few breaks, are necessary to give the series as a whole some emotional equilibrium and keep the various sub-plots from descending to soap opera level.

Though, actual, if a soap opera ever had some well-choreographed superhero fights as part of their program, I might actually watch it.

THOR #163

New York City’s Atomic Research Center has vanished, with a weird force field now surrounding the spot where it stood. Sif had investigated and was pulled inside. Thor now investigates as well and HE gets pulled inside.

After a fight against some powerful humanoids called Mutates, he frees Sif from captivity and discovers that the inside of the force field is a time doorway, leading to a far future in which the world has been largely destroyed in a nuclear war. The Mutates are the remnants of mankind.

Thor and Sif soon run into the being behind it all—Pluto, the Greek god of the Underworld. He’s still trying to find a way to escape his Underworld kingdom. (Remember that he once tried to trick Hercules into taking his place way back in Thor #125.)

Pluto plans to use the Mutates from the future to destroy mankind in the 20th Century. In some way that’s not explained as clearly as it should be, this will allow him to permanently escape from the Underworld.

Thor and Sif vow to fight him, but he’s got power equal to Odin, so that won’t be easy. But inside the Atomic Research Center building (which has also been transported to the future), something kept in a small chamber in the biological research lab starts to awaken…

Thor ranks up there with FF and Spider Man as one of the best Marvel books of the 1960s because it drips with imagination. Thor, fresh off saving the universe from Mangog—who has the combined strength of a billion billion men, immediately zips to another galaxy to fight Galactus—who literally eats planets for breakfast, then comes back home to confront an Olympian god who is using radioactive mutants from the future as an army.

And the really cool thing is that in context with Thor’s established powers and history and by plopping him down in the middle of a comic book universe—this all MAKES SENSE.

I love it.

I hope its okay with everyone, but I’m going to pause again next Wednesday from our usual trip through the Marvel Universe. We’re going to look at a 1942 issue of Superman in which he fights a villain who coincidentally has the same name as a better known villain introduced nearly two decades later. I’ll also be explaining how I’ll be formatting our occasional looks at the Mort Weisinger era of Superman stories.

So we’ll get to May 1969 in two weeks, in which the FF fight a horde of killer robots; Spider Man fights one of his second-tier bad guys; and Thor fights an army from the future.

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