Wednesday, May 9, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1969


In the previous issue, this story was marred a little when it was kicked off via the Fantastic Four making a collectively idiotic decision to move into a clearly dangerous house.

But Stan and Jack more than make up for that this time around, combining slam-bang action with several really strong emotional elements.

The house is actually a machine Mole Man will be using to project a ray that will blind all of humanity, allowing him to conquer the surface world. He’s already zapped the FF, leaving them apparently helpless.

But this is the Fantastic Four, after all. They’re never completely helpless. What follows is an unusual fight scene in which the blind good guys try to zero in on the Mole Man by sound alone. He keeps them at bay for a time, but then he loses his goggles (making him helpless in bright light) and the blinding ray gizmo is broken. He’s captured and the world is saved.

All five of the heroes (both Sue and Crystal are there) get cool moments during the fight while still emphasizing their teamwork—one of the most impressive elements of the sequence is how smoothly Stan and Jack divide up the action between them.

But it’s Sue’s moments that really stand out, especially after Reed gets zapped and perhaps killed (in fact, Ben has to do artificial respiration to bring him around). Not surprisingly, hurting Reed activates Sue’s Berserk Button. And when Sue goes berserk, she is simply awesome. I’m tellin’ ya, if she weren’t already married (and if she weren’t annoyingly fictional), this panel would have had me proposing to her:

There’s also a teaser for the next story as a Skrull slaver arrives on Earth to find a contestant for “the Games.” This will lead into the next story arc—one of my favorites and something that might have been influenced by what would have at the time been a relatively recent episode of Star Trek. For my Marvel reviews, I prefer to do little or no research before writing about them, so I can discuss them purely on their own merits. I’ll leave it to one of the several Kirby scholars who are kind enough to comment on my posts regarding whether Star Trek was indeed the source for the upcoming story.


Here we have another text book example of how an remarkably talented artist can layout action and jump from scene to scene smoothly and without ever losing the overall flow of the story.

The issue is pretty much all action as Spidey manages to locate the Maggia HQ. Silvermane is there, using his newfound youth to slap Man Mountain Marko around because Marko didn’t initially believe Silverman is Silverman.

When the webslinger arrives, Marko goes down in just a couple of panels. I suppose space issues made that necessary, so the main action could concentrate on Silverman. But if I wanted to find a reason to quibble with this undeniably excellent issue, Marko’s quick defeat is a little disappointing.

Silverman initially gives Spider Man a run for his money in the ensuing fight, but then his punches get steadily weaker. In a twist that any Twilight Zone fan should have seen coming, he soon reverts to a baby before fading away completely.

In the meantime, Spider Man takes on a small army of thugs and rescues most of the Connors family. But Doc Connors is still missing. In a twist that pretty much EVERYONE should have seen coming, the excitement causes him to revert into the Lizard.

So the problem of the Maggia is solved for now, but it all leads into an exuberant two-parter that will include an always-welcome Spidey/Human Torch team-up.

I do want to take note of this issues cover, which plays up the fact that someone is going to die. I think it might actually have been a Comics Code Authority to feature an important character on the cover if he/she was going to bite the big one. If so, the cover does a good job of making Silvermane’s identity to give the ending appropriate shock value.

But the cover implies that someone we actually care about is going to die—not a brutal and egotistical villain we only met a couple of issue ago. (And, of course, Silverman will be resurrected before long anyways.)

All the same, I like the cover. It reminds us of one of the reasons Peter is a hero—that he values all human life, even the lives of the bad guys.

THOR #167

As punishment for his Berserker rage, Thor is sentenced to travel across the Universe in search of Galactus. Odin has a secondary motive here, of course. Galactus might eventually be a threat to Asgard, so Odin wants to act preemptively if necessary.

There’s some great character moments here—most notably Thor’s humility in admitting his guilt, the respect he shows for his dad’s authority and his acceptance of his punishment.

Balder travels to Earth to fill in for Thor there. But Loki is up to his old tricks again, zapping Balder with a magic spell that leaves the Asgardian gravely injured.

Thor pops down to Earth for one last visit before leaving on his comic search. He discovers Balder is wounded and needs Donald Blake’s surgical skills to save him. He reverts to Blake, which is the moment Loki has been waiting for. He jumps Blake and snatches away the cane that becomes Mjolnir.

It’s a clever plan, though I’m not sure it makes sense in context to how Mjolnir is supposed to work. I suppose Loki could carry it around while it’s in cane form, but I don’t think he’d qualify as “worthy” once it turns into a hammer.

Then again, maybe Loki was planning on using his magic to channel its power while it was still a cane. I suppose that might work.

We’ll never know anyways, because Odin shows up and tells Loki that whoever has the hammer has to go looking for Galactus. Loki immediately changes him mind about the whole thing, drops the can and teleports away.

That leaves Blake free to operate on Balder and then say one last goodbye to Earth.

Except for one possible plot hole, this was a nicely constructed story that will lead us into a two-part encounter with Galactus—a short story arc that I will be praising for many obvious reasons and then perhaps unfairly criticizing for being too short.

And that’s it for August. Next week, we'll examine a Captain America story arc from 1966 that I never did get around to reviewing. Then, in two weeks, we'll hit September 1969, in which Ben Grimm gets kidnapped; Spider Man finally remembers to call Aunt May (oh—and also fights for his life against a deadly enemy); and Thor sets off to speak harshly to the most powerful being in the universe.

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