Sunday, April 06, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #96

"Defying the Magic of... Mad Merlin!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(September 1963)

This is such a great month for Marvel Comics that it kind of pains me to get to such a low point.

The stakes here are that archaeologists have discovered the crypt of Merlin. Apparently, Merlin was a historical figure? With a crypt? That people could just find? Anyway, much like King Hatap in last month's Tales of Suspense (also scripted by Robert Bernstein), Merlin is not actually dead but hibernating, and gets up and starts plotting conquest. After causing a missile test to go awry, Merlin heads off to Washington, DC. Hey, cameo!

This is the first time (only time?) we actually see President Kennedy (and Caroline!) in an issue. Previously, we've seen the top of his head. (I'm a bit ahead of this point in my reading, and I know the actual month vs. cover date lag is a little tricky, but I find it interesting that even in the "real time" Marvel Universe, the Kennedy assassination is never mentioned. Adds a bit of a bittersweet twinge that this story doesn't truly deserve, as this is his final appearance while the real Kennedy was still alive.)

After being pointed in the right direction by Loki, Thor fights Merlin all over DC. Merlin's big move is that he tries to crush Thor with the Washington Monument (why do they love smashing up landmarks in this title?), but Thor digs a ditch quickly to evade it, which isn't even that spectacular because Thor basically did the same thing when Sandu tried to drop a building on him back in Journey #91. Merlin also tries to make the Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial come to life to fight Thor, but Thor uses a gust of wind to make him sit back down, which apparently breaks Merlin's magical hold on him? I don't know, there's not even a full shot. Should've gone right to Abe instead of spending two pages on a floating Washington Monument.

Finally, Thor turns into Donald Blake and somehow convinces Merlin that he can change himself into anything. I mean, you just saw me turn into a normal guy with a bad leg, right? So Merlin agrees to just go back into his crypt to sleep for another thousand years, because Blake gives him his word that Thor won't just kill him. The end.

Guys... Merlin is a dick.

Not a fan of that.

Super lame story, by the way.

Stray notes:

:: Jane Foster really takes Don Blake to task over being kind of a shitty doctor; he's out of the office so much that patients are just up and leaving! Too bad Blake can't just tell her, "Well, jeez, Miss Foster, I'm also Thor and I was busy saving a bus full of kids from drowning!" Thanks, Odin.

Right after he does it he says to himself "I'd better be rushing back before Jane threatens to quit... for the millionth time!" Asgardian whine.

:: Thankfully, this is Bernstein's final Thor story. Stan Lee takes over next month. It's not that Bernstein's even a bad comic writer, really, it's just that his style of silly one-offs doesn't really fit with Stan Lee's larger aims of creating a believable universe of humanistic characters and real continuity. Not that Stan always gets it right, either--sometimes he gets it spectacularly wrong. But the tone is just so off, and the characters don't really get explored, especially in such a limited space. Bernstein's going to stay with Iron Man for a while, but Stan is retaking Thor and he's going to take it to some interesting places.

Next Marvels: Nick Fury meets Reed Richards!

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