Wednesday, July 18, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: February 1970


The FF is called on to act as bodyguards to a U.N. peace commission. But a villain called the Monocle (because he’s a guy who wears a monocle) is planning on using the death ray built into his camera to kill the commission members.  That would start World War III, with Monocle and his followers sitting out the festivities in underground bunkers, ready to rise up and take over later on.

This all leads into a pretty hum-drum issue. The villain is as generic as can be and his plan is the same sort of plan that many other mad scientist/world conquerors have tried to carry out in a zillion or so works of fiction. And there’s nothing really original or striking about Monocle’s visual design.

Any way, the bad guy uses his death ray to distract the FF with various disasters while he then kills the U.N. guys. But Reed deduces the sort of technology he’s using and counters it, allowing the heroes to save the day and run the villain to ground.

Also, Crystal is temporarily recalled to the Great Refuge by Black Bolt, while Sue takes an active part in this mission. It will actually take nearly a year’s worth of issues to wean Crystal off the book completely and return the FF to its original membership for a time, but this marks the beginning of this process.

It’s simply not that great a story. But still, it is Jack Kirby doing the art, so it looks fun. As I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry, I believe Kirby was far too professional to ever put in less than 100% effort into anything he did. So I doubt his rapidly approaching departure from Marvel was the reason for this hum-drum issue. I think he and Stan just had an off month.


Man, I hate it when we hit those occasional months where I have to sound whiney about the books I’m reviewing. (Of course, I did already manage to whine quite a bit during the Thor’s “Search for Galactus” story arc, didn’t I?)

But, well, the Kangaroo just isn’t that great a villain--being a bit… hum-drum. He’s a guy who spent time in the Outback living with kangaroos until he developed the muscles and skills to jump high and far.

I guess this does highlight how oddly the Suspension of Disbelief kicks in for each of us as individual readers. I can accept a lab accident that gives someone control over four artificial arms; I can accept a serum-gone-wrong that turns a scientist into a giant lizard; I can accept a man who can turn himself into sand.

But, gosh darn it, a guy who lives with kangaroos until he learns to jump real good? That one just bothers me.

Well, the Kangaroo has fallen into a life of crime and is now in New York. He steals a container being transported under guard, assuming its cash. It turns out to be a vial of deadly experimental bacteria.

In the meantime, Peter is having some typically bad luck. Aunt May is back from Florida. When Peter picks her up at the train station, he’s overheated from webslinging to get there on time. May assumes he’s catching cold, so she takes him back to her home and puts him to bed.

Peter has the good grace to allow her to mother him and, in a legitimately sweet moment—decides to go along with “having a cold” for a few days to allow her to take care of him. But when he learns that the Kangaroo is loose with a vial of bacteria (and probably doesn’t know it), he leaves a web-dummy behind in his bed and swings off to locate the villain.

While he’s gone, Aunt May comes in, sees the dummy and faints.

While Aunt May is having conniptions, Spidey has a fight with Kangaroo, made interesting by the fact that Spider Man can’t risk throwing a solid punch without breaking the bacteria vial. The villain may be hum-drum, but the situation makes the fight an interesting one. Spidey lets Kangaroo slip away, but only after he recovers the vial.

By the way, John Romita is back in this issue, though he’s sharing the art chores with John Buscema and Jim Mooney. The credits don’t make it clear who is doing what (layouts, pencils, etc), but the art still looks great. Romita will continue to share the art duties with Mooney or others for awhile before Gil Kane comes aboard for a brief run. Then Romita will return as the primary artist in issue #106.

Gee whiz, Marvel has some great artists at the beck and call during these years, didn’t they?

This issue ends with Aunt May thinking she must be going senile and Peter unable to give an alternate explanation. I’ve complained a little about Aunt May from time to time, but I do recognize her importance to the Spider Man mythology and here she’s being used effectively. Peter was using his powers responsibly and with courage, but his need to keep his secret identity continues to inadvertently harm those close to him.

THOR #173

Well, I’m glad I don’t have to whine about this issue. Though it’s not up there with the true classic Thor stories, it’s still good, solid entertainment with nifty visuals.

The Circus of Crime is out on parole and they are still working as a circus as a cover for their robberies.

They were, by the way, out on parole the second time Spider Man fought them.  You’d think by now that a condition of their parole would be “DON’T WORK AND TRAVEL TOGETHER AS A CIRCUS!        “ Gee whiz, Marvel Universe judges seem to be as incompetent at the DC Universe wardens who always let Lex Luthor work in the machine shop.

Since Thor was responsible for sending them up last time, he investigates them. The story has some fun here—the current strong man act is a guy dressed as Thor, so the real Thunder God takes his place and then shocks Ringmaster with the “tricks” he’s able to do while performing.

While this is going on, Loki sends Ulik to Earth to battle Thor. But the troll is soon under Ringmaster’s hypnotic control. Everything comes to a head when the cops, acting on evidence gathered by Thor, raid the circus. (I like the fact that the cops are presented as competent and bring down most of the Circus of Crime without Thor’s help.)

Thor has a brief fight with Ulik before zapping him back to the troll’s home dimension, while the human villains are all carted off to jail.

Kirby gives the whole set-up his usual visual panache. I suppose if I HAD to complain, I’d argue that the Thor/Ulik fight is far too short. This might have made a good two-parter. But it’s still a lot of fun the way it is, so I’ll refrain from complaining. I think I might have maxed out my Complain Points for this week anyways.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll enter March 1970, where the FF will fight an old enemy; Spider Man will fight an old enemy; and Thor will fight a brand-new enemy.

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