Your appeal has reached my ears Thor! What trouble besets my favorite son? – ODIN
Journey Into Marvel – Part 87
Extremites, if you’ve followed this series with fanatical vehemence, and some of you have, you’ll be familiar with ‘Marvel Rush Job;’ those issues that don’t cut the mustard. They rely on hackneyed villains, convenient plots, caricatures. Every early Earth-616 — main Marvel Continuity — title was helmed by comic book artist extraordinaire: Jack Kirby. Imagine you are Jack Kirby and had to crank out seventy or so pages of high quality work every month — and also the occasional new creation. The task is daunting. In the summer of ’63 Stan Lee auditioned other artists to take over some of the titles. Sometimes this was a huge success. Look at the work of Don Heck. Sometimes this was a great failure — Al Hartley I’m looking at you. Whatever the result, it’s neat to experience other names take Jack Kirby creations and making it theirs. Today’s issue is the audition piece of long time Marvel mainstay Joe Sinnott and his fairy tale interpretation of Thor. Read the rest of this entry
Journey Into Marvel – Part 80
A building rising in the air and then vanishing! People losing their memory for no physical reason! It smacks of supernatural mischief…and that smacks of the god of evil, my old enemy…Loki!
Extremites, like most western fiction the comic’s roots lie in campfire stories. Religious stories, mythologies, and legends all descend from these roots. One of the recurring archetypes that comes out of these traditions is the vice character. I have brought him up before in this series; think Satan or any crux character that coaxes the hero to act against his or her nature. Thor, based out of Norse myth, is the closest Marvel line to these roots. It’s right that his line has the strongest and most obvious vice character in Loki. Read the rest of this entry
Journey Into Marvel – Part 76
Other men reveal their feelings! Why don’t I? Why don’t i just up and tell Jane that I love her?? What am I afraid of?? Blast it!! Am I a man or a mouse?!! I, who possess the greatest strength on Earth…who would battle entire armies…who would defy the heavens themselves! I fear nothing!…Nothing! Nothing…except the mocking laughter of a beautiful woman, upon learning that afrail, timid doctor is hopelessly in love with her! – Dr. Blake/Thor
Extremites, Journey Into Marvel is bi-polar. One moment I’m reading a historically significant issue, that has far reaching repercussions for fandom, and the next I’m neck deep in crap. After the last issue where Hulk crossed over with the Fantastic Four and changed comic book history, I return to a Marvel rush job with Journey Into Mystery. Read the rest of this entry
Journey Into Marvel – Part 69
Extremites, I was thinking about Batman. The concept of a mortal superhero is ingenious. Batman is full of the flaws of humanity yet he can challenge any mortal or extra skilled foe. He can face a human antagonist like the Riddler and an extra-human like Ra’s Al Ghul.
When it comes to Superman, his antagonists must be more powerful to pose a threat to the Kryptonian. Lex Luthor, begins as a billionaire with an endless supply of resources and over time morphs into a superhuman cyborg just to keep up with Kal’El. At Marvel, Thor, a god, has this same problem. Read the rest of this entry
Journey Into Marvel – Part 64
Extremites, what is it about Thor and Loki? Loki tries to take Thor’s hammer, either fails or briefly holds power until Thor rights everything and we as fans come back in droves to see versions of this story over and over.
I wrote an article that took Forbes to task for calling Loki “Marvel’s only decent villain.” Forbes is wrong. There’s plenty of decent villains in Earth-616. However, they are correct in noticing the mass appetite for Loki. But why? Read the rest of this entry
Journey Into Marvel – Part 59
Extremites, they’re back. Stan Lee’s favourite punching bags. The sign that the writers were strapped for time. Those monsters that appose everything that the US stands for and therefore Marvel. Those disgusting malevolent Reds!
Journey Into Marvel – Part 54
Extremites, we forget that at one time the threat of nuclear war was as present as the threat of a thunder storm on a humid day. In 1962, when the world came the closest it ever came to total nuclear annihilation — during the Cuban Missile Crisis — comic books all took a dark turn. Never has this turn been more clear then in today’s Thor adventure. Journey Into Mystery #86 is full of anxiety and shows that even wild stories, about time travel and feats of strength, can be full of zeitgeist ideology. Read the rest of this entry
Journey Into Marvel – Part 48
Extremites, around the premiere of Thor: The Dark World, I read a Forbes article that declared Loki as the only interesting Marvel villain. This article claims because of Marvel’s campy comedic vibe they have yet to produce a villain who has the gravitas of the Joker.
Ignoring that this article disregards the none Disney Marvel adaptations like Fox’s X-Men, which features both Sir Ian McKellen’s inspired interpretation of Magneto and Fassbender’s younger version who is just as rich — and Sony’s plethora of well adapted Spider-Man villains: Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock or the malevolent and off the wall Green Goblin of Willem DaFoe— the article has a point.
I submit that of the villains so far presented in the Marvel Disney World, Loki is the only one adapted faithfully to the screen.
Obadiah Staine is a footnote in Iron Man.
Mickey Rourke’s Vanko is a mishmash of characters.
Shane West’s Mandarin is a spit in the eye.
Tim Roth’s Abomination was well cast in a terrible script.
Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull has too little screen time.
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is the first villain that poses a threat and that is because his is the only faithful adaptation.
The Joker, in Batman, is the perfect villain.
We often as literary critics get bogged down looking for important motivations when we dissect villains, but really, as so well reduced in the recent HBO True Detective series, they are the opposite side to a coin. They are the dark in opposition to the light. Joker is the yang to Batman’s yin. He doesn’t hate the Batman, per se, or love him like the Riddler does, he needs the Batman to exist. This is because he is part of the same personality. Batman and Joker are both deficient in one side of their personality and the other character fills in that deficiency. Batman lacks any sort of humour, Joker has an excess of it. Joker lacks any sort of ethics, Batman has an excess of them. So it is with Loki and Thor.
I am not about to suggest that Thor and Batman are one and the same. I have already made the case that he is a parody of Superman. Loki is the same as Joker. Both characters have the same goal … to create chaos for the sake of chaos.
Sure, as time has gone on both the Joker and Loki have gained deeper pathos. In Loki’s case, he wishes to gain control of Asgard for some received slight in his adoption by Odin, but in his initial appearance this was not present.
Journey Into Mystery #85 is the third appearance of the Mighty Thor. He has now fought aliens, restored capitalism to a banana republic, and met his future love Jane Foster/Nelson. In this issue he meets his archnemesis.
Up in a very special place called Asgard, its first appearance, there grows a great oak tree. Within this tree is exists Loki trapped until someone cries a tear for the him and he can be released. Loki, being the most clever of the Asgardians, makes one of the leaves float into the eye of passing Heimdall and he is free.
After this initial plan Loki spends the story creating chaos in his search for Thor.
If it’s a statue, Loki has brought it to life, if it was somehow inanimate, it somehow becomes animate.
Why does he create all this chaos?
Loki never wants to defeat Thor. He just wants Thor to ‘pit wits.’ This is the relationship Batman has with Joker, although without the magic. It’s almost as if Loki wants to play with Thor. It is not a bloodthirsty relationship like Prince Namor or Doctor Doom’s with the Fantastic Four. It’s a battle of wits.
In my mind, there are four types of antagonists: the Scorned, the Megalomaniac, the Ideologue, and the Shit Disturber. Examples of these in Batman would be: the Riddler, the Penguin, Ra’s Al Ghul, and the Joker. On Marvel’s side it goes like this: Prince Namor, Dr. Doom or Kingpin, Magneto and Loki.
Loki’s presence has always been expected when it comes to Thor. Many of Thor’s issues have Loki involved in someway.
And so it is with Batman.
This is evident from Loki’s debut.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “Trapped By Loki, The God Of Mischief!” (Journey Into Mystery #85, Oct. 1962)
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Pros: This is a really fun issue. More Asgardians. Bonkers Loki plots.
Cons: Character wise, this is a pretty empty episode, but Silver Age comics are often gimmicky and just entertaining.
Previous Review: “It Came From The Skies” (Fantastic Four #7, Oct 1962)
Upcoming Review: “The Challenge of Comrade X” (Tales to Astonish #36, Oct 1962)
Journey Into Marvel – Part 47
Extremites, the 1950s were a period of great film. Every writer, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg in their formative years ,strolled down to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and took in a matinee B-Film. The crazy plots, full of monsters eating hapless hot-rodding teenagers and invasions of aliens wearing lycra suits, washed over their eyes and infected their minds. The creativity that flooded the 80s was seeded in the darkness of the 50s movie house. B-Films embrace two dimensionality, juvenility, and action over substance, to entice an army of kids to populate the movie theatres every weekend.
Likewise comics, once a medium that focused on the exploits of legendary comic gods like Superman, Batman, and Captain America, were forced to headline schlocky ‘monster of the week plots’ to bring in the 12 cents from the 10 year olds. This problem halted comic book creativity for years.
At Martin Goodman’s comic book company: Atlas Comics, times were hard for Stan Lee’s team. Lee was forced to reject the far more satisfying plots of Captain America and the Sub-Mariner for tales of mole creatures and marauding mindless aliens to make ends meet. Even after this change in creative direction, Stan had to fire most of his staff because of poor sales.
Atlas changed to Marvel.
The Marvel Age of Comics was born.
This issue of the Fantastic Four is when Stan Lee said ‘no more’ to Marvel Comic’s 1950s B-Title exploitative ways. (Well, until everyone got lazy, circa 1969.)
When the Fantastic Four debuted in 1961, their entry was greeted with some criticism by the few who read them. They were unlike any characters that had come before in that they were selfish, prone to squabbling, and ignorant of the higher goals of the superhero. Though these characters had balanced moral compasses, they often allow their baser instincts to govern their actions. Thing would rather spend time beating on his favourite punching bag, the Human Torch, than devote his mind to saving the world. Many people who read the comic thought Fantastic Four, while novel, was a passing fad and comics as a whole were empty-headed nothingness. Kurggo represents this narrow opinion of the comic book’s pointless B-title past and the derision that ‘discerning’ people had for comics.
Coming off the victory of defeating a tag teem of villains, the Fantastic Four are receiving an award from congress when a space ray assaults the Earth. The laser beam turns every human against the team and the Four become outcasts. Kurrgo, Master of Mysterious Planet X is behind this attack and he’s doing it so he can capture the Four. At introduction, Kurrgo with his furry demeanour and campy planet scream 1950s B-Titles. As he espouses his plan to turn Earth against the team in an extended soliloquy one can imagine a great B-Movie face like Sterling Hayden behind the words.
The whole defamation and kidnap plan turns out to be a plea by Kurrgo for Mr. Fantastic to return to Planet X and help the Xians stop an asteroid from demolishing their planet. On top of this it seems that the planet has two spaceships with which to vacate the furry race. The Xians “have no interest in space travel.” After a ploy by the captive Reed Richards and a shrinking elixir, Kurrgo’s race is shrunken to fit on a diminutive space ship. Kurrgo is left out of that ship to die in the oncoming asteroid impact. In this act, Stan Lee through Reed Richards has abandoned Fantastic Four’s B-Title association.
Kurggo is a name that has appeared a few times in the history of Marvel. During the 1950s, the name belonged to a subterranean monster who terrorized people by opening his gullet and gobbling them into oblivion. Kurrgo is now the Master of Planet X. It is no coincidence that the Master and monster share the same name.
Two B-plot monsters have now been done away with in the short tenure of the Four. The Moleman’s monster, which looks like many 1950s prototypes, was abandoned on an island to be destroyed by a blast. Kurrgo was left to die on his doomed planet. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have said ‘no more’ to tired B-movie plots.
And so begins the more satisfying plots of the Fantastic Four.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “It Came from the Skies!” (Fantastic Four #7 Oct. 1962)
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Jack Kirby’s art is colourful and detailed, All characters are treated with a deft hand and feel developed, there is some good humour in this one. Reed Richards is finally allowed to headline a title.
Cons: Campiness of Kurrgo. The defamation plot seems like page filler. The whole plot seems haphazard.
Upcoming Review: “Trapped by Loki, The God of Mischief!” (Journey Into Mystery #85 Oct. 1962)
Former Review: “The Mighty Thor vs. the Executioner” (Journeu Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)
Journey Into Marvel – Part 46
Extremites, historical perspective changes depending upon when it is being looked at.
If, for instance, I was examining WWI in 1963, I might focus on the importance of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in the causation of the war. However, if I was examining the same time frame from the vantage point of my desk in 2014, I might change the focus to the Treaty of Vienna, or even the Napoleonic War.
The literature that we write in the present of our time is the best glimpse into the minds of people who live in that time. This applies best with comics.
Comics are pulpy high consumption mass media. They are structured to appeal to a wide range of people. They often reflect common beliefs and fears of those who write and read them.
The comic descends from cartoonish political satires that were featured in newspapers. They functioned as editorials on politicians and ideas. Over time, these single satirical panels developed into long form narratives which formed whole stories. This heritage has never been more clear then in this Thor adventure.
Today’s issue is a zeitgeist satire of the political events in Cuba during 1962.
The US has always had a very close connection to its island neighbour.
Cuba is ninety nautical miles off the coast of Florida. The island has always been a trade gateway to North America. After the slave uprising in Haiti, the slave trade — the most important industry in the foundation of the US — moved through the Spanish ports of Cuba. Rum and tobacco, essential to 18th Century North America, were first cultivated here. An incident involving an attack on a American frigate, docked in Havanna, inflamed the Spanish-American War. Cuba has always been a major part of American foreign policy.
In 1959, the Communist rebels, under Fidel Castro, forced Baptista, the longtime Cuban president, to leave the island and seek asylum in the United States. Castro installed a Communist government on the island making an anti-Capitalist country only a few hours sail from Miami. Nikita Krushchev, First Secretary of the Soviet Union, opened up an alliance with Castro and a Cold War showdown began.
In 1961, after hasty planning with the CIA (and the Mafia), President John Kennedy ordered an invasion of the island. Called the Bay of Pigs fiasco, it was an utter failure. Those who were not gunned down attacking the island were captured by the regime. Furthermore, the invasion attempt pushed Cuba into the arms of the USSR.
The story is as follows:
In a fictional central American republic, San Diablo, a new communist ‘El Presidente’ has seized control. His name is The Executioner. Note, he is not the later villain known by the same name, these two have no connection. Dr. Don Blake, having returned from his vacation in Norway, hears about the incursion and volunteers to act as a medical liaison. The Executioner orders a MiG jet to destroy the ship of American volunteers. Little does he know that Thor, in the guise of Don Blake, is on board and the Executioner just declared war on America’s favourite Asgardian. After Jane Nelson — Jane Foster’s first appearance, but for some reason, under a different name — is kidnapped by the Executioner, Thor defeats the Communists and San Diablo is once more a friend to the United States.
The story is bland. There is not an exciting moment in the lot of it. It’s obvious, from the outset, that Thor will defeat this moustachioed Latin tyrant because he’s a mortal.
What are guns up against a god?
Not even the kidnap of Jane is a credible threat because the Executioner declares that he will marry her; taking any real threat of execution out of the situation.
The suspense just isn’t there in this one. Perhaps, this is in some part due to the oppressive rules of the Comics Ethic Code.
None of this matters, though, because Kirby and Lee are more concerned with securing Thor as an emblem of American Patriotism, than a rip-roaring story.
Kirby and Lee want Marvel’s own version of Superman.
During World War II, and the early Fifties, Superman was an iconic mascot of American patriotism. In my article that tackles Thor’s debut, I talked about Lee and Kirby’s reliance on the DC model in Thor’s creation. Today’s issue debuted a month later and was meant to secure Thor as the new flag bearer of Marvel American hopes.
America, a month later, could have used a real life Thor, for the ‘Cuba Crisis’ grew into a World crisis . The events of October 1962 would serve as a model for super-villain plots of the next 30 years.
True life is far scarier then anything in a comic book.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “The Mighty Thor vs. The Executioner” (Journey Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)
Rating: 1 out of 5.
Pros: Some excellent Kirby art.
Cons: An obvious two dimensional stereotype, thinly veiled allegory, and lack of story.
Previous Review: “Return of the Ant-Man” (Tales to Astonish #35 Sept. 1962)
Upcoming Review: “It Came From The Skies!” (Fantastic Four #7 Oct. 1962)