Wednesday, June 27, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1969


This wonderful storyline wraps up with a great fight scene between Ben and Torgo—as well as the bonus of getting to see Crystal looking cute as a button in 1920s flapper garb.

Ben is fighting in the Arena against Torgo, but when he gets the upper hand, he refuses to kill his opponent.  When this allows Torgo to get the upper hand, the robot now can’t bring himself to deliver the coup de grace either.

Fortunately, the rest of the Fantastic Four has followed the Skrull slaver’s energy trail to this planet. Crystal generates a shock wave that destroys the Skrull’s planet-busting weapon (something, we learn, that is an irreplaceable one-of-a-kind device). Torgo, no longer fearing for the safety of his home planet and inspired by Ben’s courage, immediately launches a slave rebellion. The FF make a getaway in the confusion.

This short summery doesn’t do justice to the marvelous visuals, the exhilarating battle scenes and the spot-on character moments. I’ve always been a fan of this story arc, but it is only while re-reading it with the intention of reviewing it that I realize just how good it is. As I’ve mentioned in my remarks on previous issues, the combination of gangster imagery with science fiction gadgetry and a plethora of aliens fighting in the arena leaves this entire story arc dripping with a level of imagination so pure that--if you could harness imagination in a generator--you could power the entire Eastern Seaboard with it.

I do have to wonder why the FF didn’t stick around to help the rebelling slaves/gladiators. But Torgo seemed to have things well in hand, so I won’t complain.

By the way, I’ve wondered if this story arc was indeed directly inspired by the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action.” I can’t help but also notice how closely the weapons Ben and Torgo use resemble those used by Kirk and Spock when they dueled in the episode “Amok Time.” 


Confronted by the Prowler in the Daily Planet building, Peter pretends to stumble back in panic and fall out a window (later claiming that Spider Man saved him.) He and the Prowler fight, but through a fluke, the inexperienced bad guy gets away.

Peter has time to tell Gwen off for supposedly seeing Flash Thompson on the side, then goes out after the Prowler again. By now, poor Hobie Brown is racked with guilt because he believes he’s responsible for someone’s death and realizing he’s outclassed by Spider Man.

Sure enough, he’s soon captured. But when Spidey unmasks him, he also listens to Hobie’s story and—convinced Hobie realizes he’s been acting like an idiot—lets him walk with a clean slate. (He presumably also tells him “You didn’t kill Peter Parker,” but I get the feeling Stan Lee lost track of that plot thread.)

It’s a nice story, giving us another minor but fun part-time superhero who will pop up again from time to time throughout the years.

THOR #171

We are, sadly, nearing the end of Jack Kirby’s run on Thor. This issue is the first of four successive single-issue stories. Then we’ll get a three-issue “Fall of Asgard” story arc. Then Sal Buscema fills in for one issue, followed by Jack doing the first part of a story involving Loki switching bodies with Thor. After that, Jack is gone—soon to be creating New Gods and post-apocalyptic worlds for DC comics.

But he’ll be going out with a bang. This issue has Donald Blake performing a tricky operation that only he has the skill to do. But he’s interrupted when the Wrecker escapes from custody and goes on a rampage. Blake has to take a chance on leaving his patient for awhile while dealing with the Asgardian-powered thug.

It’s not an important issue in terms of character development or plot—but it’s a typically awesome example of how good Kirby was at choreographing fight scenes. Thor and the Wrecker fight on the rooftops, in the streets and finally in the subways, where the Thunder God tosses the villain onto the third rail, then adds the power of his hammer to the electric shock to drain away the Wrecker’s power. And it all looks breathtaking. Jack may have been unhappy with the way Marvel was treating him by this point, but he was a real pro who never let this effect the quality of his work.

That won’t last, of course. A bad guy with a cosmically powered crowbar is simply too cool an idea to let lie. Eventually (I think in an issue of the Defenders) he’ll escape from prison and recover his crowbar, which will not only re-power him, but give three other escapees similar powers. Thus we’ll have the Wrecking Crew.

But for now, the fight is over. Thor reverts to being Dr. Blake and returns to the operating room, saving his patient.

Which brings us to the end of 1969. When Baby New Year brings the year 1970 to us, the Fantastic Four will be fighting some old enemies; Spider Man will be fighting an old enemy; and Thor will be running into an old girlfriend.

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