Wednesday, March 7, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1969


The wrap-up of the Inhuman story line is so simple that it can be summed up in a few sentences:

The Inhuman royals and the Fantastic Four are being held in separate cages, but each group manages to escape on its own. The FF takes down the robot that beat them last issue (Reed has figured out it contained a hypno-ray that had been slowing them down), while the royals smash Maximus’ big hypno-gun in the nick of time. Maximus and a few cronies escape—fleeing Earth in a space ship. The good guys win again.

But that summary doesn’t do justice to Kirby’s layouts. As he does in Thor this month, he continues to use the science fiction background of this story to play on his strengths as an artist—filling each panel with cool-looking weaponry, robots and cityscapes. Especially notable are several successive panels drawn without dialogue or sound effects at the Inhumans fight a horde of Alpha primitives.

The one other thing that’s worth noting is the role of Ben, Johnny and Reed in this story. They do perfectly well in a difficult situation—busting out of their jail and whooping butt on the big robot. But when you think about it, they really weren’t needed. Black Bolt and his family manage to break out of their prison on their own and they deal with Maximus and save the world before the FF has a chance to join up with them.

That’s not a criticism—it’s still a strong story. But it’s kind of fun that the usual heroes of the book are merely a sideshow, while the (admittedly awesome) guest-stars do all the really important work.


The main action in this issue is a wonderfully choreographed fight between Spidey and Kingpin, but Stan Lee also continues to follow up on the issues he dealt with last time.

It’s only a few panels, but Robbie is talking to Randy (who, with other protesters, is being held on suspicion of helping the Kingpin) about the protest. The dialogue brings up a point about fighting for racial equality. Do you do this through protest, or do you do it by becoming a working and useful part of the establishment? There’s only time for Stan to touch on the point here, but it would be a jumping off point for intelligent discussion of what was perhaps the most important social issue of that decade.

There’re also a few moments where we find Gwen wondering if Peter isn’t a bit of a coward for not taking part in the protest. Secret identities do cause interesting problems sometimes, don’t they?

But, as I said, the meat of this issue is a fantastic fight scene as Spidey first takes out Kingpin’s thugs, then goes one-on-one against the big guy himself. (If Peter knew that Thor was taking on Galactus at the same time, he’d probably count his blessings.)

As is true of all good Spider Man action scenes, the webslinger uses his head as well as his fists and manages to put the Kingpin down. But when Kingpin is arrested by the cops, he “confesses” that Spider Man was his partner.

So when Spidey tries to give the stolen tablet back to the cops, they shoot at him. Enraged, Peter yells out:

Well, that attitude won’t last, but Peter will soon be discovering that losing his temper can have consequences.

THOR #161

Thor and the Recorder are rescued by the Wanderers, a ship full of survivors from worlds destroyed by Galactus.

But that ship also gets caught in the crossfire between Galactus and Ego. Thor joins and and actually manages to cause Galactus pain (something not even the Fantastic Four had ever managed to do). The Thunder God still gets swatted away just as well.

Thor, the Recorder and the Wanderers are on Ego’s surface and the battle seems lost. But Thor comes up with a way of unleashing all his power and all the power of his hammer in one massive burst. This causes Galactus actual agony and forces him to retreat.

In gratitude, Ego offers his surface as a home for the Wanderers.

The above summery is yet another case where describing the plot simply doesn’t do it justice. Kirby’s art continues to sell the story—his ability to endow his imagery with a real sense of power means we believe it all. We believe two cosmically-powered beings are slugging it out in a battle that spans across light years. We believe the burst of power let loose by Thor is enough to hurt Galactus. We believe every little detail Jack Kirby puts into the tale.

That’s it for February. In March 1969, the Fantastic Four face off against their bitterest enemy once again; Spider Man discovers he’s not done dealing with Kingpin; and Thor discovers he’s not done dealing with Galactus.

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