Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four #6

Fantastic Four issue #6 Photo Credit: Marvel

By the sixth issue of The Fantastic Four they were a certified hit in the comics publishing industry. The books actually were flying off the shelves and although many of these issues still end up tossed in the trash once they have been read, there are some collectors out there who realize it might be more fun to hang on to these comics.

Because the book was such a hit, the action has to ramp up as much as possible every issue. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had already introduced to incredibly strong and sophisticated villains, Namor, who pre-dates the 616 universe and Dr. Doom who is the first of the greatest original villains in 616. So what could be more exciting than having those villains work together? The first real villain team up that matters happens in this issue and it is a formula for success.

At the start of the issue we see bystanders observing Johnny Storm and debating about whether or not The Fantastic Four are real. The bystanders are shocked to find out Invisible Girl was in their midst the whole time as she suddenly appears.

We follow along as she goes into the Baxter building and passes through some security measures devised by Reed Richards to keep others out. We even get a neat little diagram of the building. This will be something featured several times in these comics and as a comics reader, it’s always aa little fun to be let in on the secrets.

The family is worried because Dr. Doom has not been seen since last issue and surely he is up to no good. But before the issue gets down to business, we see Reed Richards stretch his way over to a hospital to talk to a fan. There he gives an explanation to why his costume stretches with him. “…it is woven from chemical fibers containing unstable molecules that shift in structure when I affect the change!” This must have been a good enough explanation for most folks because they stick with that for a long time.

Meanwhile, The Thing gets a letter from the Yancy Street Gang calling him out to fight. I think this is the first mention of them but they become a huge part of Ben Grimm’s life so the letter is significant in Marvel 616 history.

Out in the ocean, Sub-Mariner is frolicking with a group of porpoise and Dr. Doom is flying above the waters, on the search for aa worthy partner. He knows the FF and Sub-Mariner have fought before and he seems like an ideal partner but of course it’s all destined to go wrong.

As the two talk we get to see a little more of the background of Namor and why he hates the surface world so much. His home city of Atlantis was destroyed when an H-bomb test hit while Namor was away. In other words, he has justifiable reason to hate humans. Stan Lee was very good at humanizing certain villains and Sub-Mariner may be the best example of that. We also learn that Namor has feelings for Sue Storm and we see that Sue has a picture of Namor hidden away so there is some mutual attraction there.

Soon Doom explains his plan which involves a gadget that can use magnetism to life incredibly heavy objects. Namor is on board with plan and off and running (or i should say swimming) to New York City. There, a crowd is amazed to see him and we have bystanders referencing stories they have read about Namor, once again establishing Marvel comics as a thing in the Marvel 616 universe.

Namor easily barges into the Baxter building to have a chat with the FF but of course they don’t want to listen. Except for Sue Storm that is. While they are checking out his story, the whole Baxter building gets lifted into the air by Dr. Doom.

Namor was promised Sue Storm wouldn’t be hurt but when the building rockets toward space, he realizes Doom has betrayed him. The villain team up is now over and Namor is going to have to help the Fantastic Four. Namor is consistently a great frenemy of the group who will do the right thing but only at the last moment or at the behest of Sue Storm.

One by one each member of the FF tries to stop the rocket but to no avail. Well, to be fair, Sue Storm didn’t try anything because, well, Stan Lee was not exactly great at giving equal time for female heroics. And the Thing does realize his strength isn’t going to stop a rocket so he just tries to bash Namor.

Conveniently there is a water tower in the building so Namor can power himself up enough to stop Doom. This also establishes the fact that Doom mentions earlier in the issue, Namor is one of the few people who could put a stop to Doom’s desires of global domination.

This confrontation ends with Doom launched onto a meteor but we all know he is coming back at some point.

It’s hard to overstate the complexities that early issues like these set up not just for the FF but for all of Marvel. The way that villains are multifaceted and complex makes for great reads even in comic books and they still work in modern culture. I think it’s why the MCU is such a successful franchise. We can relate to everyone, even the villains.

Next up on the reading list we’re getting micro once again as we go back to Tales to Astonish #35 and check in on Ant-Man!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Incredible Hulk #3

The Incredible Hulk #3 Photo Credit: Marvel

For two issues we have seen how the Hulk can be a major threat to the population. He is a big, unstoppable, rage machine. On the other hand, mild mannered Bruce Banner is well aware of what he becomes and knows he needs to take precautions to keep the innocent safe. To this end, Bruce has built a nearly indestructible bunker under the sea to keep the monster in at night. But we all know, nearly indestructible is not actually indestructible.

Rick Jones is the only one Bruce trusts enough to make sure Hulk stays in all night and will be there to let Bruce out in the morning. One thing Bruce perhaps didn’t consider was how close to a military base his reinforced bunker was.

General Ross, who is going to be an antagonist of Bruce’s for the whole series, has sent his men to find Rick. It’s well known that Rick and Hulk have a connection and Rick is just the bait Ross needs.

Ross appeals to Rick by telling him Hulk is the only one who can test a rocket for the government. In the days this issue was written, comics writers were not allowed by the Comics Code Authority of America to write anything that might be considered “unpatriotic”. So of course, Rick brings the Hulk along. But not until after Hulk has smashed out of his unbreakable bunker and pounded his way through a group of tanks.

Hulk ends up in the rocket and is launched into space. This is not the first time he was launched into the stars but this does mark the first time he was tricked and sent there to get rid of him. What do you do with a big, unstoppable, rage machine who can break through a bunker made to withstand an atomic blast? Send him to space. This solution will be tried over and over in Marvel 616. It never works for long.

While the ship is in space it gets close enough to the sun that it’s like daylight which brings out Bruce Banner. Then he is immediately hit with rays of radiation. As a story device, this was so it did not have to be night for Hulk to come out. It also loosely ties in to the events of Fantastic Four #1 as these could be the very same rays Reed Richards and company collided with.

In addition, these rays psychically link Rick Jones and Hulk when Rick touches a control to bring the ship back. This is very convenient for the Ringmaster part of the issue later but does come off as fairly silly.

Once Hulk is back he smashes his way through the army and nearly kills Rick. Lucky for Rick he figures out the whole psychic link thing and is able to command the Hulk to go back to his bunker. Why the army isn’t waiting there, since earlier in the issue the said they had the area under surveillance, is beyond me.

The next part of the issue gives us the third telling of the origin of the Hulk. We get to see a tiny bit more of why Rick was there but it’s pretty much the same story from the first two issues. There was a bomb test, Rick was there, Bruce saved his life but the gamma rays created the Hulk.

We are next introduced to The Ringmaster. This is a character that actually shows up in a lot of Marvel 616 books but his first appearance was in this issue. He’s capable of hypnotizing large crowds to be immobile at which point he and his crew of circus performers simply rob the town of all its goods.

Hypnotism was like magic in the 60’s comics and pulp fiction stories. Basically it could make anyone do anything and it was an easy story device.

Well, the Ringmaster comes to the wrong town because this time Rick Jones is in the crowd and he can control a big, unstoppable, rage monster named the Hulk. It’s no match between these circus clowns (pun absolutely intended) and the Hulk. Still, it seems Ringmaster and his crew can hold up a little longer than the army does against the Hulk.

All in all, it’s a fairly standard Hulk issue but it does do a few important things. It shows that Ross is not going to stop hunting the Hulk and he is willing to use dirty tricks to do it. Rick is one of the few people Hulk might actually take orders from, even when not hypnotized. And, we get to see that the Hulk can’t quite fly, but he can leap so far, it’s pretty close to the same thing.

Next on the reading list, we’re going back to ol’ stretcho himself, Reed Richards to check in on the family in Fantastic Four #6.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Journey Into Mystery #84

Journey Into Mystery #84 Photo Credit: Marvel

Journey into Mystery #83 introduced us to Dr. Donald Blake and his alter ego, the god of thunder himself, Thor. In that issue, Thor found himself fighting off an alien invasion just in time. The follow up is much more earth bound as he must fight against a would be world ruler who goes by the name The Executioner.

The story is only 14 pages long but it does manage to recap what happened last issue and then immediately shows us Don Blake in his capacity as the kind and caring doctor. We also get to know about his burning love for his nurse Jane Nelson. Jane feels the same toward Don. Donald Blake assumes Jane can’t feel anything for him because he is “lame” (the writer’s words not mine). The real reason Jane isn’t falling for Don though, is because he never shows anything other than a professional interest in Jane. This is a dynamic that will be set up for years to come in the pages of Journey. And because comic books are serialized and soap operatic in their plots, this dynamic is stretched out for far too long. This issue does keep it to a minimum though. Later on Jane’s last name will be changed to Foster and she is a character who is portrayed as a love interest for Thor in the MCU films.

Dr. Blake finds out that there is a pro-communist leader who is a ruthless warlord in the fictional area of San Diablo. He immediately volunteers to travel there to help any injured and do his part as a good doctor. Communists and communism were a significant threat in the minds of Americans in the early 1960’s so this plot fits in perfectly with the sentiment of the time. While it’s an over the top exaggeration, it’s pretty clear in this story that The Executioner is a stand in for Fidel Castro.

On the ship to San Diablo Don worries that Jane will be in danger once they get there. The whole damsel in distress plot was one that was overused in comics already at this point so it’s pretty obvious Jane will be in trouble and Thor will have to rescue her.

Before that happens the ship is attacked by airplanes. Don Blake is able to change into Thor and readily defeats them. I would say this is just an excuse to show off some of the amazing artwork Jack Kirby was capable of. I have no problem with that though, because the artwork is amazing and any excuse for it is fine.

To get back onto the boat Thor has to change back to Blake and be rescued. Just like Lois Lane falling in love with Superman, the first glimpse of Thor for Jane leads to instant attraction.

The next few panels sets up The Executioner as the villain by showing him send off his failed pilot commander to the firing squad.

Once on land, Blake and Jane are attacked again. This time Blake is able to defend by tapping his magic cane on the ground twice in order to call wind, rain, lightning and thunder. The rules of the cane that turn Blake into Thor are somewhat established here but those rules do tend to change as the series progresses.

The storm Blake calls only temporarily saves them and soon he has to turn into Thor to stop enemy tanks. He defeats most of the enemies and sets free the Americans who were under threat, except for Jane Nelson. Even Thor wouldn’t be fast enough to stop the enemies without allowing Jane to die so he hides and turns back into Blake.

Blake is captured and Jane agrees to marry the executioner in order to save Don. But Blake taunts the executioner enough that he is able to get his cane back and immediately changes back to Thor. With a couple of tricks using his hammer, Thor is able to save Jane and allow the army of the executioner to realize he is a coward only interested in money. His own army shoots him to death.

Interestingly, there will be a character called The Executioner who is an Asgardian but he has nothing at all to do with this executioner. Also, we never hear about San Diablo or the armies fighting there again in all of Marvel 616.

The end of the issue sees Jane fawning over Thor and his rescue while inwardly lamenting that Dr. Blake was not brave and adventurous in the moment. If this seems like a Superman and Lois Lane dynamic, that’s because it was intentionally set up that way. The formula may be old at this point, but it works.

Next on the reading list we go back to ol’ jade jaws himself in The Incredible Hulk #3.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Journey Into Mystery #83

Journey Into Mystery #83 Photo Credit: Marvel

Journey Into Mystery started out as a horror anthology series published by Timely comics. It had a measure of success in the 1950’s but it evolved into a science-fiction and fantasy book some time after Timely’s successor, Marvel took over. Most of the stories up to issue #83 were forgettable.

Then, in June of 1962, issue #83 hit the stands and the magazine would be forever changed. The cover has the month of August as the release date but as often happened in comics at the time, the release month printed did not align with the actual release date. The cover showcases a powerful figure whirling a hammer so fast we can’t see what it is. The font boldly proclaims to have “The most exciting super-hero of all time!!” And it says in the upper left corner, the words that would bring in one of the most famous Marvel characters of all time, “Introducing… The Mighty Thor!”

The actual story is only 14 pages long but it does a lot of heavy lifting. Thor as we all know is the god of thunder from Norse mythology. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby ran with that idea but had their own take on and personality for the character they would show in their comics.

The first story starring Thor is a bit silly and a bit strange. To put it into context I will have to tell you a little bit about Dr. Donald Blake.

The average person who may or may not be a comics reader still knows who you are talking about if you say the names Peter Parker, Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, or Bruce Wayne. But if you say Dr. Donald Blake, a lot of people, even those who do read comics would be forgiven for not knowing who that is. Dr. Donald Blake is the mild-mannered alter-ego of Thor.

In the tradition of comic books at the time, all heroes had a secret identity and a heroic persona. In Marvel comics in particular these secret identities always had some flaw. It could be physical, emotional or mental but there was always some flaw. Dr. Blake has a heroic heart. He wants to save people and he has dedicated his life to medicine to do so. But he is also what the comic book calls “lame”. That’s as in the original definition of lame, meaning you have difficulty walking. Probably not a term we would use now.

Dr. Donald Blake finds himself on vacation in Norway when an alien craft full of “stone men from Saturn” land. It’s immediately clear they are a threat and want to take over the earth. Luckily for humanity, the good doctor overhears these creatures and tries to go get help.

Unfortunately for him, Dr. Blake is discovered and chased down by these aliens. He has no chance of running away so instead he hides in a cave. And it’s a good thing he did. In the cave is a stick he can use for a cane. But this is no ordinary cane. As soon as Dr. Blake taps it on the ground, he is turned into The Mighty Thor. From here the fantastic artwork of Jack Kirby simply leaps off the pages.

We get to see Thor as you would want to see him. A figure of power and confidence who can wield a magic hammer that proclaims, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of… Thor!”

In the early pages of Thor’s debut it’s hard to tell if Dr. Blake simply has the power of Thor or is in fact the Thor when he changes. But it doesn’t matter because the star of the comic is once again, the artwork.

With the power of the god of thunder it’s no sweat to scare off a few aliens. And much like Superman can turn back into Clark Kent at a moment’s notice, Thor can revert to Dr. Donald Blake, thus saving the world but saving himself all the unwanted attention of explaining who he is or how he does what he does.

In the last panel of the story there is a teaser ad for the next issue of Journey Into Mystery telling us that Thor will appear regularly in its pages. Thor is misspelled as Thorr right on his own hammer in this panel but the sentiment is still correct. Thor and most of his supporting cast go on to appear regularly in Journey Into Mystery. Essentially, once Thor appears here he basically takes over the comic. It sells well enough that Thor doesn’t even get his own name in the title of the series until issue #104 when it becomes Journey Into Mystery with The Mighty Thor.

With the introduction of Thor in the pages of 616 continuity we now have three of the five original founding members of The Avengers. It will take some time before that team is formed but those heroes would have a lot less muscle without the god of thunder at their side.

Next on the reading list we follow along further with Thor in Journey Into Mystery #84.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Amazing Fantasy Issue #15

Amazing Fantasy Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel

In June of 1962 the fifteenth issue of Amazing Fantasy (formerly titled Amazing Adult Fantasy) was released. There were four stories and an editors note in the issue. The only story that matters in the issue is the first one. It’s called Spiderman and was the launch of a world wide phenomenon readers would come to love up to this day. The story involved a smart teenage science major who was often bullied by his peers. The boy had a doting family who loved him dearly and he appreciated them. Then, one fateful day, a radioactive spider bit the teenager and the world changed. Not just for Peter Parker but for the world of entertainment.

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created one of the most iconic and memorable characters of all time. Spider-man was for decades, hands down, no question, the most popular character Marvel ever created. It would take a mutant with adamantium claws and a bad attitude to knock him out of first place. Still, even now, Spider-man is a top tier character and the favorite of millions of people. And it almost didn’t happen.

According to Stan Lee, his editors didn’t want him to write a book where a teenager was the hero. They didn’t think that would sell well. But they allowed him to write a shorter story and put it in an anthology book that was maybe going to be cut from their lineup anyway. Turns out, people loved a story about a teenage hero.

What makes Peter Parker stand out from other heroes of the day are not his powers but his flaws. He’s a teenager capable of making mistakes. Mistakes that have serious consequences.

In the first appearance of Spider-man we see Peter picked on and made fun of for being a kid who is more into science than dances. We see him bitten by the spider that transforms him and gives him powers. We see Aunt May and Uncle Ben dote upon him. We see Peter show off his powers and become a known costumed hero through his feats of strength in a televised wrestling match. We even see him invent his iconic web-shooters.

All of those moments are important and significant. But the one moment from this issue that matters the most is the one moment when Peter does nothing. He lets a crook get away with money that doesn’t belong to him even though Peter could have stopped the criminal. This lack of action causes the death of Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben. The crook goes on to murder Ben and when Peter discovers it was his fault his uncle died, he learns “with great power there must also come — great responsibility.”

The guilt of that moment makes Peter place the world upon his shoulders. He must do right because if he stands by and does nothing, people could die. His heroics are born not out of vengeance or out of the need to prove to the world how good or powerful he is. No. Peter becomes a hero because it is his responsibility. This will be a driving force in his comics to this day.

It can’t be overstated what a groundbreaking issue in the world of comics this first appearance was. Between Lee’s story and Ditko’s art an icon was born. One that is here to stay. There will be many, many more issues of this character for me to review. Not all of them are great but this first one matters to the world of entertainment in a major way. We see it portrayed over and over again in comics, books, television and film.

One of the moments I hate seeing most in anything Marvel is the death of Uncle Ben. At the same time, I know it’s one of the most necessary moments in all of comics. I’ll endure that moment over and over again because what comes after is so compelling.

Next on the reading list is Journey into Mystery #83 where we will meet a god of thunder who wields a hammer like no other.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Fantastic Four Issue #5

The Fantastic Four Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Fantastic Four Issue #5, Photo Credit: Marvel

There are some villains so memorable that they define the heroes they fight against. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Batman without The Joker as his arch-nemesis. What would Superman be without the deadly threat of Lex Luthor? In the fifth issue of The Fantastic Four, the villain that will be the biggest threat, the most dangerous rival, the most influential villain against Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, is introduced. He will come to define the team in many ways and will be a significant presence in the Marvel 616 continuity permanently.

The beginning of the issue starts with some mystery as to whom Dr. Doom could be and what he wants. However, he hates the group from his opening panels.

Once we enter the FF’s headquarters, we get another nod to the Marvel 616 universe containing Marvel comics as we see Johnny Storm reading an issue of The Incredible Hulk. Marvel isn’t the first company to have made what we now call Easter eggs, but they have always been masters of it.

Right from the outset, Doom is a threat. He starts off the issue by trapping the team in their Baxter Building headquarters. He tosses a net that is electrified and fireproof. Johnny can’t burn through it, The Thing can’t break it, and Reed can’t stretch past it. Doom demands Sue Storm be given to him as a hostage. Reluctantly, the team agrees to let Sue go to prevent Doom from causing harm to anyone.

Before that happens, Reed takes us on a flashback to his college days and reveals that he knew Victor Von Doom in college. At that time, Doom was obsessed with both science and the supernatural. He tended to conduct science experiments that were forbidden. During one of these experiments, Doom was disfigured and has covered his face ever since. We don’t see what the test was, but it’s evident it was not an innocent one. Doom gets expelled but continues looking for secrets in black magic and sorcery.

As soon as Reed realizes who has trapped them in the building, he understands what a threat Doom is. Doom’s demands are somewhat strange. He takes them back to his fortress and demands that The Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic and The Thing all travel to the past to get the treasure of Blackbeard, the pirate. He gives them forty-eight hours to bring back Blackbeard’s treasure chest. Doom obviously wants something inside the chest but he doesn’t phrase the request that way.

The story gets a little silly as the three heroes have to disguise themselves as sailors. They even equip The Thing with a black beard. There’s a bit of fighting, and soon it turns out to be the case that The Thing is Blackbeard, the pirate. This means the group is not actually stealing anything from anyone. Also, The Thing considers staying because he is seen as a regular, if intimidating, human in this era. Ultimately, the group does go back, and they do present Doom with Bleackbeard’s treasure chest. Since Reed is the smartest man in the world, he puts chains into the chest, thus fulfilling Doom’s request of getting the treasure chest but not giving Doom the ability to increase his powers. Doom tells the group the gems belonged to the ancient magician Merlin, which sets up the possibility of magic existing in the 616 universe. Johnny is also pretty quick to realize the gems are at the bottom of the sea and could be deadly in the hands of the Sub-Mariner.

Doom is outraged that he has been tricked, and a fight breaks out. We find out here that Doom is an intelligent foe. He has created a robot replica of himself, so he is in no danger of harm from the three heroes. This is the first instance of a Doom-bot showing up, but it will be used over and over to fool heroes in the future consistently.

For all his intelligence and arrogance, Doom is not infallible. He forgets about Susan Storm, and she destroys his machinery and frees the rest of the group from the room Doom has trapped them in. The group escapes and manages to force Doom out of his own fortress. He makes his escape with a rocket-powered jet pack and flees in order to fight another day. The issue sets up Doom as a repeat threat, and he will certainly deliver on that threat in years to come.

Next on the reading list is Amazing Fantasy #15 (A story), potentially the most significant Marvel comic book ever to be printed. This is the one that introduces us to a certain teenager who has quite the reaction to a little spider bite.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Amazing Adult Fantasy Issue #14

Amazing Adult Fantasy #14, Photo Credit: Marvel

Only Marvel in the 1960s could have published a comic book that advertised giants on the cover while also boldly stating at the bottom that it is, “The magazine that respects your intelligence.”

Amazing Adult Fantasy is an anthology comic book that would feature several stories on various subjects. The next issue will lose the word Adult from the title and gain perhaps the most compelling character in all of the Marvel 616 universe.

For this issue, the essential story is the second one. On the Contents page, the story is mislabeled as, Man in Space, but is actually called, The Man in the Sky! This little story is vital to a specific corner of the Marvel 616 universe. This is a landmark story because it introduces something not seen before in the pages of Marvel. This story is the birth of mutants.

The story deals with Tad Carter. His father, Brad Carter, was an atomic scientist. Through his work, he absorbed small amounts of radiation, not enough to affect him but enough to change Tad. This is why mutants will be called “the children of the atom.” Like with The Hulk, the power of the atom is awesome and overpowering. It is capable of changing the world for good or bad.

In this story, mutants are only vaguely defined, and it seems they could have a vast range of powers. Tad can move objects with his mind. He can read the minds of others. Tad’s impulse is to help humanity, to teach them how to do the things he can. He proves to some friends that he can read minds. The crowd turns on him and, for the first time, hurl the insult, “A mutant!” Tad still tries to convince the group that he wants to help them even as they call him a freak and attack him. Tad finds himself lifted off the ground and flying in the air. And as he is pulled away, a voice calls into his brain. This voice reassures Tad there are many so-called mutants in the world and they have power humans never dreamed of.

It’s here it is established that mutants are the next great stage in the development of man. When Tad asks why mutants do not reveal themselves, he is told, “Because people fear those who are different! And humans try to destroy those whom they fear!”

Thus sets up the future for what will become The X-Men. While not explicitly stated, it’s almost certain the voice Tad heard was that of Charles Xavier. The philosophy that mutants should help mankind despite their hatred is the guiding principle Charles lives by. At this point he is still wanting to wait to reveal mutants to humanity until the world is ready to welcome them. He wants to wait until “…mankind comes of age!”

Stan Lee has said the reason he came up with mutants was because it got too difficult to keep thinking of different kinds of accidents and situations that would cause someone to have powers. If he could just say that someone was a mutant, he didn’t have to go too much into the origin of the powers. Interestingly, this situation and the way Lee wrote it enabled the creators to speak on issues of civil rights and racial injustice without ever having to use those words. A generation of children would grow up thinking it was unfair for a group of people to be assumed to be dangerous or evil just because of who they were. Many of them knew this to be the case because they read the pages of Marvel 616 comics that featured mutants. This story is the beginning of that. It’s incredible how important a small story in an anthology comic book could become to entertainment and to our understanding of the world.

Next on the reading list is Fantastic Four Issue #5 where we will be introduced to one of the greatest Marvel 616 villains of all time.

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Incredible Hulk Issue #2

The Incredible Hulk Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Incredible Hulk Issue #2, Photo Credit: Marvel

The second issue of The Incredible Hulk helps to expand out the Marvel 616 universe. For the first time, more than just superheroes become aware of aliens that might threaten Earth. To be clear, there were plenty of Marvel stories involving aliens before this issue. Still, as far as 616 goes, the public becomes aware of these invasions thanks to the rather forgettable enemy of the Toadmen. These aliens want to invade earth but first want to know how advanced humanity is scientifically. They capture the most brilliant scientific mind they can find who happens to be Dr. Bruce Banner. Now, I think there is an argument that perhaps they should have set their sights on Reed Richards, but this is Hulk’s book, so Bruce is the target.

The issue starts with establishing that the Hulk is known to the public and he is considered a menace. Townsfolk run and hide when they see him coming, they gasp in horror at his appearance. Speaking of his appearance, he is now green like we all think him to be. Hulk does some property damage as truckers plow into him and law enforcement attempts to capture him. They are not successful. The only person that might have a chance at quelling his rampage is Rick Jones. We are treated to a flashback to the previous issue which reminds us how Bruce Banner was changed by an accident involving a Gamma Bomb test. Rick managers to get Hulk away from the crowd and he changes back to Bruce Banner.

Bruce is smart enough to realize he needs to barricade himself every evening to keep the Hulk from going on a total rampage against humanity. He has found a cave with a huge underwater outcropping that he can barricade with a ten-foot thick solid concrete wall. He expects Rick to let him out every morning but more importantly, make sure the Hulk stays in at night. Before they can get set, the Toadmen teleport Bruce and Rick to their ship.

There they tell the pair that the Toadmen are masters of magnetism (a power that will be used to great effect in the pages of The X-Men) and unless Bruce tells them what they want to know they will destroy the earth. This does seem a little backward since they already have the power to threaten the earth. The Toadmen realize Rick is not necessary to their plans so they send him back home. Unfortunately for the Toadmen, they go to the dark side of the earth, and at this point in the series, Bruce changes to Hulk at night. He easily overpowers the aliens and on the tenth page gives us a hint of what horrors could be expected if Hulk’s rage is truly unleashed as he says, “With this flying dreadnaught under me, I can wipe out all mankind! Now the Hulk will be the hunter instead of the hunted.”

Back on earth, General Thunderbolt Ross is ready to shoot down the spaceship. Rick tries to warn the base Bruce is on board but he’s too late. Bruce Banner survives the crash and Ross assumes he is a traitor to the country. While Bruce is imprisoned the Toadmen decide to attack. The world is now aware there are intelligent species from space that have made contact with the earth. This moment is the reason that in 616 continuity, it’s unusual for people to be surprised aliens exist.

Soon Bruce changes back to the Hulk and breaks through the prison walls. Hulk declares Ross to be his enemy as he smashes through the army base. He makes it to Betty Ross’ house and the General is forced to attempt to save her. He wants to try tanks but Rick convinces Ross to let him try reasoning with the creature. Hulk is not having it and knocks Rick down. For the first time, he grabs Betty Ross and leaves the house. Betty tries to ask him why he is doing this and why he hates humans. Hulk’s answer is, “Look what men have done to me!” and goes on to declare, “…now the Hulk will fight back! On my own terms!” This sets up the pattern of the comic for years to come. Humans misunderstand and hound the Hulk until he has had enough and turns on them. He doesn’t harm anyone that we can see but he does do plenty of property damage.

A well-timed attack by the Toadmen allows Hulk to transform back to Bruce Banner at dawn without Betty seeing. He goes from green to gray to his normal human skin tone. Bruce acts quickly and uses one of his Gamma inventions, a ray gun, to stop the aliens. Again we see atomic energy as both blessing and curse here. Bruce defends the planet and even Thunderbolt Ross has to admit that this one time Bruce cleared his own name. He’s still suspicious of both Banner and Hulk though.

At the end of the issue, Hulk is imprisoned for the first time in the cave that Bruce will come back to over and over.

This issue is fairly typical of The Incredible Hulk. The villains are never able to truly outshine the star of this book. Hulk is such a force in and of himself that villains almost feel unnecessary here. The series will continue in this manner for years, although Hulk does get some key moments outside of his own book soon as well.

Next on the reading list is Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 (B Story). (This title will eventually be shortened to Amazing Fantasy).

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: Tales to Astonish Issue #32

Tales to Astonish #32, Photo Credit: Marvel

There is one story from this issue of the anthology Tales to Astonish that can be considered important to 616 continuity. Although, if you skipped this one, it probably wouldn’t make much difference. Still, Marvel counts this one as in continuity and there are a couple of things of note here.

The story that counts in 616 continuity is the one called The Girl in the Black Hood. This story is about a full grown woman, not a girl. This sexist titling is unfortunately common during the 1960s Marvel era. Nevertheless, the story is about a woman named May Dusa. She is a photographer who takes amazing pictures but never lets anyone see her face. A small time crook plans to rob her and get a good look at her face. In a twist that will surprise no one now but might have surprised some seven year old kids in the 1960s, the woman has snakes for hair and is Medusa.

It’s the kind of short, somewhat silly type of story that frequently appeared in Tales at the time and I can’t blame the creators for lack of cleverness. They were cranking out a huge volume at the time and not all stories can be winners.

There are two things I think are important here. First, Don Heck who will go on to do the Iron Man series is the artist and this is a nice example of his work. Secondly, the story takes place in the 1920s. Like the Sub-Mariner appearing in The Fantastic Four established the 616 timeline back to the 1940’s this issue takes us back to the 1920’s so we know 616 is at least that old.

To me it is not clear if this “May Dusa” is the prototype for Medusa that will appear in the pages of The Fantastic Four and other books or not. This story may set up the Gorgons but if so, I am not sure how this story accomplishes that. There is still plenty of reading to go though, so we’ll see when we get there.

Next on the reading list is The Incredible Hulk #2.

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review: The Incredible Hulk Issue #1

The Incredible Hulk Issue #1, Photo Credit: Marvel
The Incredible Hulk Issue #1, Photo Credit: Marvel

There are a few moments in the Marvel 616 universe that are pivotal moments. These moments change the world. One such moment is when four individuals attempted to explore space but flew threw cosmic rays and became four of the most fantastic people on the planet. Another is when a teenage science student attends a science lecture and is bitten by a radioactive spider. There is also an incident in which a young boy will save someone’s life by pushing a stranger out of the way of being hit by a car. This will make the young boy go blind but will also give him heightened senses that allow him to do the most death-defying daredevil stunts ever seen.

A key moment in 616 continuity that is constantly revisited is the moment when Bruce Banner tests a Gamma Bomb for the first time.

On May 1st, 1962, while the country is still worried about nuclear attacks from the Russians, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby unleash a man/monster upon the world who will go on to become one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time.

The issue establishes several essential characters who will not only feature in The Incredible Hulk but will become vital to the entire 616 universe. The events of the day are not in question but the moment Bruce becomes the Hulk will be revisited over and over. Context will be added, small details will be changed. But the basic premise will always remain. Bruce Banner was testing a new kind of bomb. Just before the test was about to happen, a teenager drives out to the testing field. Bruce races to the scene and saves Rick Jones’ life. This will alter the destiny of everyone seen in this first issue of the comic book.

General “Thunderbolt” Ross will dedicate his life to hunting down the Hulk. Betty Ross, Bruce’s love interest will wonder what the connection between Hulk and Bruce is. It’s almost as if she feels the change in the world as in one panel she says, “I feel as though we’re on the brink of some fantastic unimaginable adventure!” Rick Jones will feel he must repay Bruce by protecting Bruce and the Hulk at all costs. This will lead him to eventually connect with most of the Marvel 616 heroes at one point or another.

To this day, things from this first issue continue to be explored in Marvel 616. Hulk appears gray in this issue instead of his iconic green which leads to an epic story arc which will attempt to explain the different shades of color Hulk sometimes appears in. In one panel Lee writes the name given to Bruce Banner’s other self is, “A name which is destined to become–Immortal!” And now, there is a comic book with the title of, The Immortal Hulk, proving Lee to be correct.

What Stan Lee wanted to create with the Hulk was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide style character who would look like a man in human form but change to something akin to Frankenstein’s monster when he changed. For all of Lee’s boasting about The Hulk being a new character unlike anything we had ever seen before, he was truly just an amalgamation of Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein’s monster. At least, at the beginning. Somewhat more original was Lee’s take on the Dr. Jekyll side of the creation.

Bruce Banner was working for the good of the world. His G-bomb was going to be something that could defeat the Russians in the cold war and protect democracy. He was an intelligent scientist who had to coexist on an army base with a General who wanted results. Bruce had to be smart enough and tough enough to know who he could give information to and who he had to hide it from.

The only reason Hulk came into being is from Bruce’s altruism. Hulk is born out of a need to help someone else at a great cost. Much like the accident itself, which was no fault of Bruce’s, Hulk has been misunderstood in his pages since the beginning of the comic book.

In this first issue, Bruce, only changes form at night. This will evolve as the series goes on but Bruce does know he cannot allow Hulk to endanger anyone’s life when he changes.

There is an antagonist in this issue in the form of an Iron Curtain operative by the name of The Gargoyle. Like a good majority of Hulk’s enemies, Gargoyle seems insignificant in comparison to the epic rage and drama of the Hulk himself. The Russians are responsible for the test going wrong in the first place. This idea let Stan Lee tap into the fears of the country at the time. The Gargoyle is the leader of the ring of Russian spies responsible. For all his intelligence, The Gargoyle has been hideously deformed. Even his allies fear him. He quickly understands The Hulk could change the cold war in favor of the Soviet Union. He smuggles Rick Jones and Hulk out of the country and behind the Iron Curtain after shooting them with a special chemical to make them compliant. Little does The Gargoyle know that Hulk will change mid-flight back into Bruce Banner. Still, The Gargoyle is no dummy and he realizes he has in his clutches the leading atomic scientist from the U.S. of A,

What turns the issue and changes the story again is Bruce’s altruism. Despite Rick Jones’ protesting, Bruce offers to cure The Gargoyle. The procedure will make The Gargoyle into a normal man once again. It will be at the cost of his intellect but The Gargoyle is comfortable with that. The reason The Gargoyle is what he calls a freak is because of nuclear testing. The Gargoyle, like many of The Hulk’s enemies to come, is a reflection of The Hulk himself. Banner does help Gargoyle and in return, Gargoyle sends Bruce and Rick back to America on his ship.

This issue is memorable for a myriad of reasons. From Kirby’s kinetic artwork that has The Hulk performing amazing feats from crushing guns, single-handed to breaking through walls to the soulful nature of Betty Ross this issue masterfully sets up the corner of the Marvel 616 universe that has to do with atomic energy. Like the splitting of the atom itself, The Hulk is a force to be reckoned with. Used for good it can save humanity. Used for ill, it could be the death of the world.

In my mind, the question of the day readers must have had after this first issue is, “What will we do if the Hulk turns against us?”

It would have been a frightening thought for a kid living at the dawn of the atomic age during the cold war. Thankfully, for us readers, we can still read about the exploits of The Hulk and will continue to do so for decades to come.

There is one other thing I need to note here. With the introduction of Henry Pym in Tales to Astonish #29 and The Hulk’s triumphant yet troubled entrance, we now have 2 of the founding members of The Avengers solidly established in 616 continuity.

Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #32 (D Story).

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