Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marvel 1965

My last post left Reed and Sue escaping from the Frightful Four, towing a brainwashed Thing who had an anti-gravity disk glued to him. The Wizard and a brainwashed Human Torch tried to stop their escape. The rest of the EFF (Evil FF) team also had anti-gravity disks glued to them and were hanging on to the ground for their lives.

Reed and Sue made good their escape and Sue revealed that she had disabled the Wizard's ID machine so the Torch was only playing at being brainwashed. They managed to get the Thing to the Baxter Building and gave him a dose of sleeping gas.

The Wizard rescued his team-mates, figured out that the Torch was faking and captured him. Reed improvised an anti-brainwashing devise which half-killed the Thing before they shut off the main power.

The EFF broke into the Baxter Building and confronted Reed and Sue. The Wizard showed them the Torch, stuck to a large anti-gravity disk the Wizard controlled. The only way to save the Torch was for the three of them to submit to the Wizard's ID machine.

Just then the Thing woke up long enough to crush the Wizard's chest piece. This freed the Torch. Reed took advantage of the confusion and disarmed the Trapster. Medusa fled and the other three surrendered.

In a bit of 1960s humor, Reed called the police to collect the EFF but the desk sergeant thought it was a crank call. The Torch had to escort the three personally.

The Thing woke up again, back to normal and over his hard feelings from two issues earlier. The story ended with a promo for the FF annual featuring Reed and Sue's wedding.

This ended the FF's first three-issue continued story and a six-issue story arc on the Frightful Four. It marked a new style of story-telling. Single-issue plots would be the exception instead of the rule and the comic would never return to the formulaic stories of just a few months earlier. (It was also the last time the Frightful Four were a credible threat).

The same thing was happening across the Marvel line-up. The other Lee/Kirby comic, Thor, was into a lengthy plot arc that included a two-part fight with the Absorbing Man, the Trial of the Gods, a side-trip to Viet Nam, a two-part fight with the Destroyer, and another two-part fight with the Absorbing Man.

Several other titles had been revamped. The Sub-Mariner replaced Giant Man and the Wasp in Tales to Astonish and starting with a multi-issue quest. The Hulk in the backup-strip stopped changing into Banner for the next few years. Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD replaced the Torch and the Thing as the lead in Strange Tales with an epic fight against Hydra. Doctor Strange in the backup strip had a multi-part fight with Baren Mordo and the Dread Dormammu.

The X-Men graduated from high school and finally defeated Magneto (with the help of the Stranger).

The original Avengers quit and Captain America led a new team made up of reformed villains - Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Spider-Man also graduated from high school. In the next year or so his book would have major changes as he switched girl friends and artists.

This was an exciting time at Marvel but the fantastic Four continued to be ground zero. The next year would see a major expansion of the Marvel Universe as the FF met the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and the Black Panther. Lee and Kirby also introduced Ka-Zar and the Savage Land in the X-Men and the High Evolutionary in Thor. The 1965 Thor annual featured a Thor/Hercules fight that intruduced other pantheons besides the Norse. With the introduction of the Kree Empire in the FF in 1967, the Marvel Universe as we know it was pretty much established.

Along with scope, the depth of the stories changed. The single-issue format only left enough room for a page or two of characterization. Continued stories meant that most of an issue could be spent on a single character as long as it led to the promise of action in the next issue.

1965 was the big dividing point for all of this. a sea change like this could never happen today. Back then the Marvel bullpen was a myth. The office consisted of Stan, the editor and main writer, a small office staff, and a bunch of free-lancers who only came by once or twice a month. Now each comic book has its own staff of assistant editors and major changes come from the board room.

No comments: