Wednesday, April 11, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1969


Doom’s robots are out-of-control and attacking the village. Reed organizes the villagers into a defensive unit, while Ben and Johnnie form a first line of defense.

As the battle begins, the hypnosis blocking the FF’s powers begins to wear off. So what follows is a classic “last stand” scenario, in which the outnumbered and outgunned heroes are slowly forced back into a single building and all seems lost.

But Reed has deduced that Doom would have built a fail-safe system into the robots. He pulls out a last-second tactic that destroys the robots.

Doom, ever the sportsman-like winner, decides to blow the whole darn village up. But the building in which everyone is hiding is saved by a force field. Sue—worried about her family—has left Franklin with a babysitter and rushed to join them.  Now all that’s left is confronting Doom himself.

This issue contains a fast-moving battle that’s mapped out for us with an expertise that’s notable even by Jack Kirby’s usual high standards. We are able to follow along with a number of different characters as the action moves from one line of defense to the next, until we arrive at the final last stand location, without ever losing track of the flow of events.


Here’s a one-issue story to provide a break between multi-issue arcs. The Shocker is back, stealing the ancient tablet that Spidey had so much trouble recovering. But when that proves too hot to fence, he tries robbing an armored car.

In each circumstance, he encounters Spider Man. Like Kirby, John Romita provides us with some great fights scenes, ending when the webslinger—realizing that Shocker’s vibration power was absorbing the forces of his punches--let’s loose with all his strength to knock out the villain.

In between these fights, Peter ships Aunt May off to Florida for her health. This is a good thing. I like Aunt May and I understand her thematic importance to being a part of Spider Man’s mythos, but there are times when her “always on the verge of death” vibe begins to get on one’s nerves. Providing us with a break from that is a good idea.

Also, Gwen continues to suspect that Peter lacks physical courage. When Flash Thompson comes home on leave, Peter gets annoyed with him for hitting on Gwen. Gwen’s reaction is to be critical of a “boy” like Peter getting upset with a “man” who has seen combat. Ouch.

This is actually a great idea for shaking up Peter’s relationship with Gwen. It’s a perfectly logical extension of his secret identity. He actually proves his courage on a daily basis, but he can’t actually tell Gwen about it.

Finally, there’s a hilarious interlude with Jameson, who is still hospitalized and must be sedated when he sees a story in the Robertson-edited Daily Bugle that calls Spider Man a hero.

One drawback of these regular reviews is that I’m often forced to repeat myself in pointing out the strengths of the best Marvel Comics of this era. For instance, I’m mentioned Kirby’s and Romita’s expert fight choreography at least 23,146,023 times. I’m also repeating myself here when I sum up my above comments on this issue by mentioning for the 1,456,294 time how skilled Lee and Romita were at inserting all these character moments without breaking up the overall rhythm of the story or slowing down the pacing. But it continues to be true.

All the elements of Spider Man that would be clichéd soap opera material if done less skillfully are woven into the plot each month with real skill. The plot construction from this issue gives us perhaps the finest examples of what makes Peter Parker/Spider Man such an enduring character.

THOR #164

Okay—okay—OKAY!!! I KNOW! It’s now 23, 146, 024 times that I’ll have mentioned Jack Kirby’s skill at choreographing fight scenes.

Because he does it again here. Thor and Sif battle Pluto and his mutates in the far future. During that fight, they and the missing atomic research lab get zapped back to the present.

So now the Army (and Baldar, who is sent to Earth by Odin because the poor sap can’t get Karnilla out of his head) join in the battle. Gee whiz, this is cool stuff.

It all ends in a perfectly logical manner—though I have to say that this time around it comes across as a dues ex machina. Zeus learns that Pluto is up to something, pops down to Earth, gives Pluto a talking too and zaps all the various bad guys back where they belong.

But Thor and his friends aren’t going to have much of a rest. An as-yet unidentified specimen in the atomic research lab is breaking out of its containment chamber…

That’s it for May. In June, the New York Mets are in second place right behind the Chicago Cubs.

But—oddly—Marvel Comics features less bizarre  happenings as the five members of the Fantastic Four confront Dr. Doom; Spider Man finally learns what the heck is actually on that ancient tablet; and Thor confronts a being more powerful than Nolan Ryan’s fast ball.

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