Wednesday, September 19, 2012

History of the Marvel Universe: August 1970


Last time, I mentioned that I thought Jack Kirby’s work at Marvel remained strong right up until he left. I still think that’s true, but everybody misses the mark a little from time-to-time. In this issue, the FF goes up against the Mob (well, the Maggia--but that’s pretty much what the Mob’s called in the Marvel Universe).

And, heck, when you usually fight madmen in power armor, shape-changing aliens, indestructible androids and killer insect-men from an anti-matter dimension, then a legbreaker with a tommy gun really doesn’t seem to be much of a threat. The main problem with this story is that the bad guys get a lot closer to taking out the FF than they ever should.

All the same, it’s still an enjoyable story. The Maggia has bought the Baxter Building and started proceedings to evict the Fantastic Four, planning to snatch up all of Reed’s inventions afterwards (why Reed wouldn’t just relocate his stuff is not adequately dealt with).  But an overeager Maggia operative amps up the violence against our heroes too quickly. Using a few secret weapons, the operative and his thugs nearly take out the FF, but in the end, they lose.

Yes, I know the image is sideways! For some reason, I can't fix it--so just go with it.
Jack makes it all look cool and the script gives both Sue and Crystal some great action moments. This is something that had become increasingly frequent in Marvel Comics as time went by. In the early 1960s, Stan Lee had often been reluctant to allow the female superheroes to really mix it up in fights against the villains. But some good character development and changing social mores had apparently made him more open to this. By 1970, the ladies of the Marvel Universe were often kicking butt and taking names.

So it’s not a bad one-shot story. I guess it falls under the same category that other merely average Fantastic Four stories end up in: When you are surrounded by greatness, being “pretty good” just doesn’t seem that impressive.


This is a classic issue. And what’s interesting about its status as a classic is that it has no villain and very little action. Actually, this might be yet another case where a new reader—unfamiliar with the Spider Man mythos—might be a bit bored. But for those who had been following along with Peter for awhile, it’s an issue filled with sharp characterizations that really move things along. Despite the lack of traditional action, there’s no pacing problems here. Everything stays interesting from start to finish.

Peter’s powers keep fading as he also grows feverish. Deciding he’s lost his powers and can no longer be Spider Man, he decides to come clean with Gwen.

But having an important discussion with the woman you love while half-delirious with fever is never a good idea. If any of my readers are getting ready to reveal their secret identities to their wives/girlfriends, remember these important bits of advice:

a)      Don’t do it while you are incapable of coherent thought due to illness, and

b)      Don’t do it while your gal’s dad and other innocent bystanders are listening.

Peter’s announcement leaves everyone confuses. Was he telling the truth? Has he taken a trip to Crazy Town? What makes it even more legitimately confusing for everyone is an incident Harry remembers hearing about: Way back in Spider Man #12, Spider Man had been caught and publically unmasked by Doctor Octopus. But no one really believed Peter was Spider Man; they thought he was posing as Spidey to get close enough to take pictures. Does that mean Peter is pulling something similar now?

This group confusion is handled well and everyone involved stays in character. Gwen gets a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when she announces she’s sticking by Peter no matter what.

It’s too bad Pete isn’t around to hear that. Growing weaker, he puts his costume back on and stumbles into a hospital just before he faints. A doctor wins the Coolest One-Shot Character of 1970 Award by treating Spidey without taking off his mask. And it turns out that all Peter had was a really bad case of the flu, which he shakes off via Spider Strength once he gets a few hours rest.

As soon as he’s out of the hospital, he contacts Hobie Brown (aka the Prowler) and cashes in a big favor. (Peter asking Hobie for a favor while wearing a web mask because he has to give Hobie his Spidey suit is a fun image.)

Soon, Peter is back at Gwen’s house, explaining that he was sick and delirious. Hobie—posing as Spider Man—puts in an appearance, confirming that he and Peter are partners who split the take on Peter’s photos. Everybody (possibly excepting Captain Stacy) buys into this.

I’ve always been a little torn between thinking this ending to the story was a little contrived or if it’s a plan that was just audacious enough to work. Reading this issue again with an eye towards writing about it has pushed me firmly over into the “audacious” camp. The incident—in addition to playing off something left over from Hobie’s appearance a few issues back—fits into the feel of the comic book as a whole. It really does come across as something that might just fool even very smart people.

That’s it for August. Next week, we return to the Weisinger-era Superman Universe to discover that Jor-el was actually a mean daddy.  Then, in September 1970, the Fantastic Four will borrow a villain from the X-Men for Jack Kirby’s swan song, while Spider Man will fight yet another rematch against his most deadly enemy.

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