Wednesday, March 14, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1969


First of all, it MUST be noted that the flying vehicle that the FF are flying home in (given to them by Black Bolt) is quite possibly the single coolest thing Jack Kirby ever designed. And that’s saying a lot.

But it’s a short trip. While still over Europe, they are intercepted by Nick Fury and a squadron of SHIELD planes. Nick recruits them for a mission—someone is stockpiling a robot army in a secret location. Find out who, where and why.

Well, the likeliest suspect when evil robots are involved is Dr. Doom. Reed comes up with what will NOT be nominated as his cleverest plan ever: driving into Latveria while flashing their passports.

They’re jumped by robots with specially designed weapons and captured. But when they wake up, they’re in a small, picturesque village, being welcomed by the friendly populace.  They soon discover that there is a force field around the village AND that Doom has hypnotically stripped them of their powers. Doom plans to simply keep them there forever, telling them to “be eternally happy… or else, to die!”

This is the first of four-parts in what will be a fairly strong Dr. Doom story. There are parts of Doom’s plans for conquest and for dealing with the Fantastic Four that don’t really make complete sense, even in a comic book world. But the art and the characterizations more than make up for this. Most notable is an interesting glimpse at Doom’s character—his conviction that the people of Latveria owe him total obedience because he keeps them fed and healthy. Without excusing Doom’s evil, Stan and Jack manage to show us that Doom doesn’t think of himself as evil. For all his stubborn pettiness in regards to Reed and his dangerous pride, in his mind—HE’S the good guy.


Having handled the issue of the protesters so well over the last few issues, Stan actually wraps it up a little too neatly to be completely satisfying.

By now, Randy and the others have been cleared of involvement with the Kingpin. They meet with the Dean of the college, who tells them they will get their low-rent dorm. He also admits his mistake in not giving the students a real voice in such issues.

Actually, it’s not a bad ending. It shows that if people on different sides of an issue talk about it calmly, they can often work things out. It just seems a little too pat after several issues of real debate on the ethics of protesting.

But, from a purely dramatic point-of-view, I suppose this had to be wrapped up to allow the readers to focus on Peter, who is being put through an emotional wringer. He’s wanted by the cops; he’s wondering why he bothers being Spider Man when everyone seems to distrust or hate him; he finds out Gwen suspects him of being a coward; and he has no idea what to do with the stolen tablet.

Then Kingpin breaks out of prison. He and Spidey meet up in a fight, but when the webslinger gets Kingpin on the robes, he’s interrupted by the arrival of J.J. Jameson and Ned Leeds. This allows Kingpin to get away.

Peter finally loses his temper and grabs Jameson, apparently giving the publisher a heart attack. The issue ends with Spider Man swinging away, wondering if he’s now become a murderer.

It’s yet another great story that generates real emotion. Stan Lee was sometimes a little over the top in his dialogue. Actually, he was OFTEN over the top in his dialogue. But when he was at his best—with characters that I think he probably loved—he could provide consistently strong character moments.

THOR #162

Thor returns to Asgard in a story that exists to set up the next story arc.  Odin shows Thor some of the history of Galactus—how eons ago an alien war fleet had discovered a huge “incuba-cell” floating in space. The aliens tried to destroy it, but only succeeded in releasing Galactus, who has his first meal by eating their world. Odin wants to learn more, knowing that Galactus is still a threat.

It’s a bit of an awkward jump when the Galactus story line is then abruptly set aside when Thor learns that Sif has gone to Earth to investigate an unknown danger. She hasn’t been heard from since, so Thor leaves Asgard to find her.

Though this issue has a few plot construction issues, it does give Jack Kirby an excuse to draw still more awesome looking stuff. So we’ll be forgiving.

That’s it for March. Next week, we’ll take a look at an EC comics Western and compare it to a Marvel Western with a similar plot. In two weeks, we’ll hit April 1969, in which the Fantastic Four continues its enforced vacation; Spider Man fights an Avenger;  and Thor does a bit of time traveling.


  1. The reason the plot construction in Thor 162 seems jumpy is because it was greatly reworked. Kirby had written or intended a three-issue arc for the origin of Galactus, but Stan nixed that and changed the story in mid-stream. The change-up is detailed in a long and heavily illustrated article in The Jack Kirby Collector magazine - I can't remember which issue number.

  2. Thanks for the input. That seems to be typical of what happens when Stan re-wrote Jack's ideas: The resultant story might still be good, but there always seemed to be an element of sloppiness in the plot construction.

  3. The Fantastic Four story arc draws heavily from THE PRISONER television show starring Patrick McGoohan as a former spy trapped in a deceptively placid Village. Doctor Doom is the "New Number Two" character, even sitting in a similar chair and surrounded with a circular control panel and video screens. Hauptmann is a dead ringer for Peter Swanwick's "Supervisor."

    Kirby was no doubt a big fan of THE PRISONER because in the late 1970s he began creating a PRISONER comic book that never came about (a fw pages were published in The Comics Journal many years ago).

    Kirby was always adept at drawing from other sources and creating something amazing. I'm looking forward to your take on the upcoming arc where Kirby takes the idea from STAR TREK's "A Piece of the Action" and runs wild with it as only he could.

    Gary in Omaha

  4. I always appreciate the extra imput you guys bring to these posts. I'm reading the stories and reacting to them usually without doing any extra research, so that my posts are about the finished product as it stands. But additional information about where Kirby was snatching up his ideas adds enormously to the discussion. Thanks.


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