Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Two 34s from 1965

By a weird coincidence, both today’s reviews come from a thirty-fourth issue. Once again, I think they show the respective strengths of DC and Marvel.

First, from Green Lantern #34, we have “Three-Way Attack Against Green Lantern,” by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane. It’s nothing special or revolutionary, just a solid superhero story with a clever plot.

The villain here is Hector Hammond. In Green Lantern #5 he tried become the king of Coast City’s social whirl, then transitioned into a big-brained, psi-powered, future man, then a paralyzed, immortal, big-brained, psi-powered, future man. In his last battle with Green Lantern, Hammond manipulated Sonar to destroy the Emerald Gladiator, but without success; neither Sonar nor Green Lantern ever realized Hammond was playing with them.

Taking a lesson from that defeat, Hammond decides to learn more about GL by spying on him clairvoyantly. After he sees Green Lantern report to the Guardians of the Universe, Hammond uses his power to create his own Guardian, a mental construct with the powers of the originals. Which as this story establishes, are the same as a Green Lantern’s, but without any yellow weakness.

Hal is understandably shocked when the Guardian confronts him, claiming to have gone to the dark side and wiped out the other Guardians. The construct’s attack is not only physical but emotional: the idea the Guardians are dead leaves Hal completely off-balance and Hammond doesn’t give him a chance to recover. The construct wears Green Lantern down and apparently kills him. GL has, of course, survived, but Hal still can’t see how he can beat someone who’s a living power ring. Then comes inspiration — not even the renegade Guardian can penetrate Hammond’s immortal body!

Hal sends his ring off to materialize inside Hammond’s body, then fly Hammond off to hunt down the renegade. As it happens, Hammond has summoned the construct to his cell (admittedly a convenient coincidence) in the hopes that it can restore his freedom to move. When the Guardian sense the ring inside Hammond, it attacks instead. Hammond can’t understand why his construct has turned on him. He doesn’t have time to figure it out as the energy blasts, physically harmless, threaten to destroy his mental powers. He disintegrates the Guardian to save himself.

All the ring can tell Hal when it returns to him is that the renegade disintegrated for no discernible reason. Baffled, Hal flies to Oa to summon the Corps and figure out what next. He’s more baffled to find the Guardians alive and unharmed; they’re just as baffled over who this imposter was. Once again, Hal has no idea Hammond was behind it all. Surprisingly after such a strong story, it would be three years before Hammond struck again. Comics in those days shelved good villains for long stretches that seem inconceivable today.

Over at Marvel, “A House Divided” appears in Fantastic Four #34. It’s a good example of one of the Lee/Kirby team’s strengths: melodrama, in this case to the point of schmaltz — but schmaltzy or not, they make it work.

This issue’s villain, Gregory Gideon, is already the world’s wealthiest man but he wants more. Much more. His wife is horrified that a golden idol has taken her place in his heart; he thinks she’s a sniveling weakling who doesn’t appreciate his awesomeness. Gideon does adore his son Tommy, though, and Tommy worships him back.

As the story starts, the second through fourth wealthiest men have beaten back Gideon’s latest takeover attempt, leaving him royally pissed off. He proposes a challenge: set him a challenge, then sell out to him once he achieves it. If he fails, which he considers inconceivable, they’re safe. The three men agree, and come up with what they think is an impossible mission: destroy the Fantastic Four!

What follows is, as the cover suggests, hero vs. hero. Unlike most of that ilk, it works because Gideon’s scheme to turn them against each other makes sense. He convinces Sue that Johnny’s been replaced by a robot; her hostility convinces Johnny his sister’s under the Puppet Master’s control again. Ben, meanwhile, finds evidence that Reed’s been replaced by a Skrull; sure enough, his buddy has exactly the same fingerprints as the Skrull who replaced him in #2! Reed points out they’re his own prints — Skrulls can duplicate those — but Ben isn’t listening.

Gideon even had a backup plot in which Reed discovers Ben has sold off the team’s equipment. This subplot doesn’t go anywhere but as Reed is already running from an enraged Thing, it doesn’t have to.

Gideon isn’t foolish enough to think the FF won’t figure things out. But the final piece of his plan is waiting for them at the Baxter Building, a knockoff of Dr. Doom’s time machine that will trap them all in the past. Gideon won’t fail; he never does.

Too bad for Gregory his son overheard him. The story establishes early on that Tommy idolizes the Fantastic Four. When he realizes his father is out to destroy them, the kid runs to their HQ to alert them … and falls into the time trap. In that instant, everything changes for Gideon as he fears he’s destroyed Tommy. When Reed successfully rescues the kid, Gideon begs his wife and son to forgive him and vows to give away his wealth and devote himself to what really matters. He walks out telling Reed the police can find him at home with his family; a disgruntled Ben grumbles that he doesn’t have the heart to punch the guy out.

The cynical part of me scoffs that men such as Gideon are rarely that easily turned to the light side. The softer part of me enjoyed the sappy schmaltz on first reading, and on rereading. For all the talk about Stan’s characterization skills, melodrama was at least as important to Marvel’s 1960s success. The JLA can save the galaxy and treat it as just a day on the job. When the FF defeat much smaller threats, Stan and Jack present it as not merely the FF’s most epic battle but the most epic battle anyone has ever fought in the whole history of epic battles. The same thing with their romantic plotlines, in which every emotion is heightened to fever pitch. Or a story like this. If I could use melodrama half so well I’d be a much better known writer than I am.

#SFWApro. Art by Gil Kane at top, then Jack Kirby

4 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    Hal still can’t see how he can beat someone who’s a living power ring. Then comes inspiration — not even the renegade Guardian can penetrate Hammond’s immortal body! Hal sends his ring off to materialize inside Hammond’s body

    How much sense does this fail to make? ‘Not even a living power ring can penetrate Hammond’s body, so I’ll get my power ring to penetrate Hammond’s body’?

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