Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cosmic Cubes should come with Instruction Manuals

You can be all-powerful. You can have god-like abilities that let you alter reality or simply wipe your enemies out of existence. You can literally be unstoppable.

But it won’t matter. Captain America will stop you anyways.

Cap proves this in Tales of Suspense # 80 and 81 (August and September 1966).

He discovers that A.I.M. (an organization made up entirely of mad scientists) has created the Cosmic Cube, a device that allows anyone who wields it to alter and control reality itself.

Well, if A.I.M. had the Cube, that’d be bad enough. But the Red Skull has used a mind control devise to force an A.I.M. guy to steal it and bring it to him. (This also gives Stan Lee a chance to show us just how ruthless the Skull is when he orders another mind-controlled henchman to shoot himself.)

Cap learns of all this, arriving at the Skull’s island hideout just as the villain gets the Cube.

The Red Skull should have won pretty much automatically at this point. He could literally wish Cap out of existence. But his arrogance and inherent sadism get the best of him. He toys with Cap for a time and, when he is ready to simply wipe Cap away, the hero is able to play on his vanity and create an opportunity to knock the Cube from his hand.

In the end, both the Cube and the Red Skull are apparently lost at sea. Of course, both will be back on multiple occasions. But for now, the world is saved yet again.

What’s most interesting about this story is—of course—Jack Kirby’s art work.

As I’ve mentioned many, many times (to the point where you’re all probably sick of it), Jack had a true talent for endowing his characters with a real sense of cosmic power. When Thor hammers a Frost Giant or Galactus zaps Ego the Living Planet with pure energy, the imagery reeks with a sense of pure power.

In his Captain America stories, though, the action is more down-to-earth. The fights are still always perfectly choreographed, but the punches seem to carry a weight appropriate to a well-trained regular human. You can see this in other Kirby-illustrated stories involving non-super heroes (the early Rawhide Kid issues, for instance).

What’s cool about this two-parter, though, is that Jack is able to combine his cosmic imagery with his down-to-earth imagery. The Red Skull, while wielding the Cube, is briefly the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe. While simultaneously, Cap is depending on his shield and a good right hook to carry the day. Jack meshes these elements perfectly.

It all adds up to another great story. The ending is admittedly a little clich├ęd—even in 1966—but the execution of the story (in both art and dialogue) is done so well that we can easily accept the ending for what it is.

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