Wednesday, August 8, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1970


The FF is on vacation at the beach and is asked to investigate a supposed monster that is sinking ships in the area. Inexplicably—considering the number of monsters and other bizarre threats they’ve encountered—our heroes are initially skeptical of the monster’s existence. They soon find out he does indeed exist.

The monster turns out to be a shipwrecked aquatic alien who thought the ships he attacked were a threat to him. He tussles with the Fantastic Four for a bit before Reed figures out what’s going on. The alien finishes repairing his ship and blasts off.

It’s a pretty generic “misunderstood monster” story, but the dialogue and characterizations do such a good job of capturing the family dynamic between the main characters that it turns out to be a very enjoyable tale despite this.

Especially notably are Ben’s thoughts when he rescues Reed and Johnny from drowning. He thinks about how little he counts for compared to the “two greatest guys” he’s every known.

That’s Ben Grimm in a nutshell. Of course he has self-esteem issues, but this doesn’t stop him from acting with heroism and loyalty.

When Stan Lee’s dialogue and characterizations are spot-on, we enjoy hanging out with the Fantastic Four even when the story their involved in is so generic.


A criminal mastermind named the Schemer plans to take over Kingpin’s territory. When Gwen is slightly injured when a truck that’s passing by her is run off the road during a hijacking attempt, Spider Man steps in to do something about it.

This is a well-plotted story, beginning a gang war story arc that will run for two more issues. The Schemer at first doesn’t come across as a very notable villain, but a surprise reveal at the end of this arc will make him suddenly very interesting.

And several character moments also help the story along. I believe we meet the Kingpin’s drop-dead gorgeous wife Vanessa for the first time here, learning that she loves her husband but hates the business he’s in. We also discover they have a son, Richard, who has recently gone missing and may have committed suicide after he learned his dad is a crook.

At Peter’s end, he ends up in the doghouse with Gwen again. Because he was out hunting down the men who hurt her, he was late in visiting her. She’s upset that he (without apparent reason) was so slow in coming to see her.

Gee whiz—women! What’re you gonna do with ‘em?

All joking aside, though, this issue is another smooth combination of comic book action and solid characterization.  It’s really too bad that Stan Lee’s other duties at Marvel will soon mean he won’t be writing comics anymore. Over the course of the 1960s, his skill at good dialogue and characterization had continued to grow.

THOR #175

Any comic book that allows Jack Kirby to draw Asgardian soldiers fighting giants and dragons is by definition a great comic book.

And this issue—the start of new story arc—is a great issue. Odin goes into the Odinsleep. Loki takes advantage of this by attacking Asgard with an army of Mountain giants and other creatures. 

But this attack is really just a distraction. While the battle rages, Loki sneaks into Odin’s bedroom and takes the “Ring Imperial.”  Since he’s of royal blood, this effectively puts him in charge. He has Sif has hostage by now, so when he announces his ascension to the throne, even Thor has to bow his head.

I do have a complaint about everyone just accepting Loki as king when everyone knows he’s a villain and must have guessed he took the ring without permission. Exactly how thick-headed IS the average Asgardian?

But the story is otherwise strong enough both in plot and in its visuals to make up for this.  The single-issue stories that have been running over the past few months in Thor have been good, but this sort of epic story arc is really where the Thunder God belongs. It will allow Jack Kirby to leave the book on a high note.

That’s if for April. Next week, we'll visit with a Kryptonian juvenile delinquent. Then, in May 1970, the FF will give Neil Armstrong a behind-the-scenes assist; Spider Man continues to embroil himself in a gang war; and Loki turns out to really stink as a king.

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