Wednesday, May 23, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: September 1969


The Mole Man makes a break for it, reaching an anti-grav shaft that takes him back to his underground kingdom. Soon after, what’s left of the house sinks underground as well.

There’s a fun panel in which Reed explains he let Mole Man escape because there wasn’t a crime with which to charge him—you can be arrested for illegal parking, but there’s actually no law against trying to conquer the world.

I’m not sure that legal analysis holds up, but what the hey.

Soon after, the Skrull who arrived on Earth last issue lures Ben out into the boondocks by posing as Reed, then knocks the superhero unconscious with a stun ray. This sets up the extremely entertaining story arc that runs through the next three issues.

This is an interesting issue. The pacing is very slow compared to most FF issues, but Kirby’s visuals and the FF family dynamic inherent in the character moments means that it’s not dull at all. It’s still a fun read despite a minimum of action.


Where this month’s FF was largely character-driven with some bits of action, this month’s Spider Man is largely action-driven with some great character moments.

We also get a new artist. John Buscema takes up the pencilling for Spider Man starting in this issue. (Though Romita will be back before long.) I'll discuss some aspects of his art in more detail next time, but for now all I'll say is that--though an artist of Romita's quality is always missed--Buscema is another of the best fight-choreographers in the business and he catches the personalities of the regular characters without missing a beat. In fact, if you didn't notice Buscema's name in the credits, it might take you a few pages to realize there's someone new doing the art.

The most important character moment is Peter meeting with Gwen before he takes up his search for the Lizard. His secret ID is continuing to cause problems. Gwen has been doubting Peter’s physical courage. Now she’s wondering if the times he seems to disappear means there’s another girl. Poor Peter can’t catch a break. But the scene ends with a sweet moment—she decides to continue to simply trust him.

But, as I said, this issue is mostly action. Spidey and Lizard clash. The webslinger is holding back because he doesn’t want to hurt Doc Connors. But the Lizard has no such concerns and Spidey takes a beating. Then Johnny Storm happens by and confronts the villain himself. Now Spider Man has two problems. Stop Lizard without hurting him and stop Johnny from hurting the Lizard while trying to help.

I love it. It’s a classic Spider Man dilemma—he’s got an impossible problem and he’s in a position where he can’t tell those others involved exactly what the problem is. This will give another always-welcome Spidey/Torch team-up a fun dynamic.

THOR #168

I’m a little torn about this story arc. It involves Thor flying off into deep space to find Galactus. In the meantime, Balder and the Warriors Three are hanging out in New York to protect Earth in Thor’s absence—a concept I truly love. When a giant atomic powered robot called the Thermal Man attacks the city, they are there to confront it.

(Thermal Man, by the way, was created by the Red Chinese and sicced on the Free World to bring us to our knees.)

While this is happening, Thor finds Galactus pretty much right away, because the big guy wanted to be found. He begins to recount his origin to Thor. We get just the beginning of the tale here—eons ago, the Watcher sees an advanced alien ship crash on primeval Earth and finds just one survivor on board.

Both plot lines are great, made awesome by Jack Kirby’s magnificent visuals. My complaint is that it seems to be moving along too quickly—at least the Galactus part of it. Thor leaves on his quest and realizes he might be gone months or years before he finds the Eater of Worlds. But he finds him in something like four pages.

Where’s the fun in that? Should Thor have had several epic cosmic-level adventures in space before finally running Galactus down? And Balder and the Warriors Three will end up having a very truncated run as Earth’s champions because of this. It just feels like a lost opportunity.

Well, perhaps Lee and Kirby didn’t want Thor away from Earth and his admittedly awesome supporting cast for too long. And, of course, I realize I’m not being fair. I’m not criticizing the story as written, but am instead criticizing Lee and Kirby for not creating the story I want in retrospect over four decades later.

 But it’s my blog and I’ll whine about whatever I want. A multi-part deep space adventure (or series of connected adventures) for Thor would have been cool. A series of adventures and team-ups with the Avengers featuring Balder and the Warriors Three would have been equally cool. Why Stan and Jack didn’t use Doctor Doom’s time machine to zip forward to 2012 and ask my advice on story direction is simply beyond comprehension.

That’s it for September 1969. Next week, we’ll  visit October 1969, in which the New York Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 to take the World Series; the Thing is taken to a planet inhabited by 1930s-style gangsters; Spider Man fights both a friend and a foe; and Thor learns Galactus’ back story.

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