Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Roy Thomas and the Hulk were both in New York in April, 1968?

My Silver Age reread has now reached the April, 1968 cover date. By this point Roy Thomas has been writing at Marvel for over two years, starting with his debut story in Modeling With Millie #44.April, 1965 is the first month where Thomas demonstrates two of the predilections he’s (in)famous for (I like his work but I know others hate it). First we have X-Men #44 (freaky coincidence, what?) in which Thomas first displays the love of the Golden Age that would later flourish in Invaders, All-Star Squadron, Young All-Stars and Infinity, Inc.

In the previous issue Magneto, having been returned to Earth by Dane Whitman, captured the entire X-team. This issue (by Thomas and Don Heck) he spends a couple of pages showing how totally, helplessly trapped they are (another example, I suspect, of Heck filling space with minimal storytelling). Angel nevertheless escapes, flies rings around Quicksilver (who’d recently acquired the power to fly) and heads off to get help. Eventually he stops on an isolated island which proves less isolated than expected.After the obligatory hero vs. hero — not that Angel has any idea he’s facing a fellow superhero — Red Raven recounts how he was adopted by bird people after his parents’ plane crashed on their sky island. Years later the winged folk declared war on the human race; Red Raven, fearing they’d be slaughtered, placed them all in suspended animation, sunk the island to hide it but periodically surfaces to check the world out. Warren flew over at just the right time to encounter it. Having rested, Warren heads off to find allies and Red Raven sinks the island once more.As a story, it’s astonishingly pointless. It has no relation to the book’s ongoing plotline or character arcs. It has no drama once the initial fighting is done. While Red Raven’s story has a certain tragedy, having him pop out of the blue, tell his story, then vanish, is about as gripping as when the drunk one bars tool over tells you his sad tale of woe.

Given that he appeared in just one Golden Age issue (#2 became Human Torch) it’s hard to imagine Red Raven had many fans pushing for his return. Thomas may have been an exception as he later considered the winged warrior for a Silver Age superhero team. Perhaps he introduced Red Raven here to set that up. It still doesn’t work but Thomas would get better about reviving the past in future stories.Sub-Mariner #1 lets Roy show off his other passion, continuity. Following up on a story begun in the previous month’s Iron Man & Sub-Mariner (a one-shot presumably reflecting Marvel wasn’t ready to launch them with the full-length stories Hulk and Captain America got that month) After Namor arrives at the ruins of the Arctic Atlantean city where he grew up, he discovers a strangely familiar figure frozen in an iceberg. Then the dude, Paul Destine, thaws out.To Destine’s annoyance, that issue ends with him apparently killing Namor; he’s positively pouty he didn’t get to finish sharing his awesome secret origin. Namor, however, finally breaks through the amnesiac fog clouding his memories of the years before Fantastic Four #4 and remembers their past encounter. It was Destine, using the psi-enhancing helmet seen here, who destroyed Atlantis as a test of his power. Namor was ready to rain down harshness upon Destine so the villain zapped his memories away, then sent him to live on Skid Row until the time was right to make use of him. Destine then went into suspended animation for five years to let his powers amp up (while I’ve read the rest of this arc I can’t recall if Johnny Storm reviving Namor sooner than planned will throw a spike in Destine’s agenda. I’ll find out soon enough).

Until this point we’d never gotten any explanation for Sub-Mariner’s amnesia. My assumption had been he lost it during the destruction of Atlantis but that was only an assumption. Thomas has always hated loose ends like that, so he tied it off. He’d tie off many, many more over the course of his career.Now, as to the Hulk, I found #103 (Gary Friedrich, Marie Severin) an incredibly weird issue. For anyone who started reading Hulk’s adventures in the Bronze Age, he’s overwhelmingly identified with the Southwest U.S. Even in the Silver Age, to date he’s spent most of his time there. It’s very weird that in this story the entire cast has relocated to New York. Hulk’s there, grumbling the cops won’t let him be; General Ross and Major Talbot are there, talking about Jade-Jaws to the media; and Rick now has an apartment in the city, though how he can afford one I have no idea.

It makes me wonder if Friedrich thought the strip would be better if Hulk hung out where all the other heroes did or if it’s no more significant than when the Hulk briefly visited the High Evolutionary in space. Time, again, will tell. But for the moment Friedrich and Severin are milking the setting for all it’s worth.After that, the story gets weird. The Hulk’s battling the Space Parasite, an alien who gave himself strength-absorption powers to save his world from invasion. Unfortunately after he won the battle he discovered that like DC’s Parasite, he needs to keep stealing energy to live. You’ll never guess who his next victim is.The battle ends oddly. The Space Parasite declares his powers just stopped working. No explanation, no reason, nothing.I can’t help wondering if it’s the Marvel method glitching again. That when Marie Severin drew the scene the idea was that no matter how much energy the Space Parasite drained, Hulk regained his strength too fast. Only Friedrich interpreted it differently (they definitely had problems working together Marvel-style). Maybe someone out there in fandom knows, but I don’t.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Stan Goldberg, Don Heck x2, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan, then it’s all Marie Severin.

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