Wednesday, August 22, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: May 1970


While Apollo 11 is on its way to the moon, Reed picks up a secret Kree transmission and realizes there is some sort of threat to the moon landing. He, Ben and Johnny track the transmission to a remote island, where they fight a Kree Sentry and demolish a machine that was going to awaken a “nameless mass” that lurked under the Sea of Tranquility.

With this threat neutralized, Neil Armstrong is able to make his “one small step” safely.

The issue is an overt tribute to the first moon landing—which is just fine with me. A celebration of one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments is never out of place.

I suppose that in the Marvel Universe, the Apollo missions really shouldn’t have been as big as deal as they were in real life, since a number of humans (most notably the Fantastic Four) had already been to the moon and even to other solar systems. But this is ignored for the sake of this issue and that’s how it should be. A work of fiction should never trump a real life act of heroism.


There’s now a $5,000 reward out on the Schemer, so Peter is working hard to track him down. The Schemer, though, has a special car equipped with a variety of weapons and gadgets, allowing him to escape from Spidey. Reaching Kingpin’s home, he confronts his rival.

But their potential fight is interrupted when Spider Man arrives. Kingpin ignores the Schemer while he whomps on the webslinger, allowing the Schemer to disappear along with Kingpin’s wife.  The Kingpin escapes to give chase, leaving Spider Man with absolutely nothing for his trouble.

This is another strong issue, with Romita’s usual skill at choreographing fight scenes on effective display. There’s also a continuation of the Gwen/Peter travails, as Gwen is increasingly unhappy about her boyfriend’s secretiveness and Peter struggles with the idea about coming clean with her.

As I mentioned in the last entry, Stan Lee’s skill at characterization had really been growing over the years. Consider how awkward and contrived some of his earlier characterizations had been—such as the Matt Murdock/Karen Page relationship. Then compare it to the Spider Man stories we are currently looking at—where the relationship stuff seems perfectly within character and is a natural outgrowth of the situations in which the various characters find themselves.  The Gwen/Peter travails never degenerate into soap opera territory because we can really believe it is happening—and, of course, since we also get plenty of old-fashioned comic book action mixed in with it.

Another effective characterization to take note of is Flash Thompson, who was shipped back to Vietnam in the previous issue. Originally, he was the high school bully, but even in those days we’d get an occasional glimpse of a nice person hiding inside the bully. Over the years, Flash has stopped being a regular part of the cast, but—despite still being a bit of jerk from time to time—he’s believably grown into someone we actually like.

THOR #176

This high-action issue expertly packs a lot of story into it. Loki is ruling Asgard and puts Odin in a capsule that he places in the “Sea of Eternal Night.” He’s jailed Thor and the Warriors Three (after the three brawl with some of his guards), but Balder stages a jail break. They get back to the throne room, where Sif is being forced into a duel with a female troll because she’s refused to marry Loki.

All this comes to a head when Surtur, the giant fire demon, escapes from his prison because Odin’s magic is no longer there to contain him. Surtur attacks Asgard, Loki flees in panic to save himself. Thor sends Sif and Balder to wake up his dad, then leads an army out to fight Surtur.

Jack Kirby will draw the next issue. John Buscema will drawn #179. Then Kirby will be back for one final issue. This story line—which will wrap up the “Fall of Asgard” story arc, really does allow Kirby to leave Thor while at the top of his game. This is another epic tale that makes great use of Asgard and its inhabitants to tell a truly exciting and visually awesome story.

That’s it for May. In June 1970; the Human Torch goes looking for his girlfriend; the Schemer/Kingpin gang war continues; and Thor’s dad wakes up from his nap.

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