Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Knuckle Under Before Kala--Queen Of The Netherworld!

Since we've already taken a glimpse at the beauteous Kala, Queen of the Netherworld, during the time when she was the Mole Man's betrothed, let's step back a few years and see how she got her start in Marvel stories. As it turns out, she came onto the scene just as Iron Man was being introduced to readers in 1963--and Kala was already looking to be a formidable foe, presenting the golden Avenger with an ultimatum that had him facing a no-win situation.

In the story, however, it's Tony Stark who first finds himself facing Kala and her non-negotiable terms. Kidnapped from his company along with two employees (no, not these two, since their first appearance in the mag didn't occur until a few issues later), Stark is taken to the depths of the Earth by a device that allowed him to pass through miles of rock as though they didn't exist. And upon his arrival, the audacious Kala--Queen of an advanced underground civilization--is there to meet him.

Even in these depths, Stark's reputation as a brilliant engineer precedes him, as it's his inventive skills that are needed by Kala to launch a bold invasion of the surface world. But how did this civilization become established so far beneath the Earth, and at such an advanced level of development? It seems the "Netherworld" is quite old, as, once, it too existed on Earth's surface--though it went by a name out of legend.

It would make a fair post of its own to account for all of those characters who claim ties (direct or otherwise) to the lost civilization of Atlantis, but we can officially count the Netherworld and its direct descendants as one of them. Its origin given here is as plausible as any, since the consensus among most of the versions of Atlantis we read about has its inhabitants being an advanced race that is prepared to survive the cataclysm that comes.

With the formalities out of the way, Kala is blunt as to why Stark has been brought to her domain, and what is expected of him.

It's a bit of a leap in logic to accept Kala's reasoning here, since we have to believe the descendants of Atlantis, after all this time, would possess knowledge and resources that surpass anything that a puny surfacem... er, Stark could bring to the table. The real kicker is that they need Stark primarily to transport their weaponry to the surface, even though they obviously have technology that can move objects between their world and the surface with ease.

At any rate, Stark isn't about to just accede to Kala's terms, without pointing out the trump card that he alone holds in the power of Iron Man.

In hindsight, this older version of the more sophisticated models of the Iron Man armor that Stark would later create appears to be incredibly powerful and not nearly as limited by comparison as more contemporary stories would have us believe; either that, or Stark is embellishing the capabilities of this vintage suit of armor in order to dissuade Kala from pursuing her plans. But as we'll see further on, Stark's clunky armor will prove to be quite a surprise to Kala.

Here and now, though, Kala doubles down on her ultimatum, and throws in some additional motivation for Stark to cooperate.

And so Stark decides to capitulate and submit to Kala's wishes, to the shock of those who were brought from the surface as hostages. Stark hopefully has a plan up his sleeve; but in the meantime, he senses conflict within Baxu, Kala's top general, and takes the opportunity to gain a little information off the record, information that he can hopefully make use of when the time is right.

(I'm as stunned as you are that a phrase like "knuckle under" is a familiar one even to the descendants of ancient Atlantis. Apparently chauvinism was handed down from generation to generation in the Netherworld.)

As for his plan, Stark has insisted on a workspace as well as certain materials to fulfill his part of the bargain, along with total privacy to do his work, terms that Kala accepts with delight. Unknowingly, she gives Stark exactly what he needs to bring Iron Man into their midst.

Of course, Kala need only mimic the dramatic image of the cover of this issue in order to stop Iron Man's advance cold--conveying the same threats against the hostages as she did with Stark. Instead, she orders her military forces to rout this intruder; and yet, astonishingly, with this suit of armor, which must seem primitive by the Netherworlders' standards, the rout is Iron Man's to deliver, as the armor takes on the might of Kala's forces and weaponry without Stark even breathing hard or searching for the nearest electrical outlet to recharge. By contrast, he had nowhere near this level of power against the Kalusians, another advanced race living beneath the surface, where he worried about going the distance even with the Avengers at his side.  (Though in all fairness, it looks like he wins this battle thanks to the endless independent devices he seems to have in storage in this suit.)

To bring this conflict to a quick end (as if he wasn't on his way to doing that already), Iron Man grabs Kala and heads for the surface--effortlessly (yes, effortlessly) drilling through the Netherworld's super-strong dome and what must be miles and miles of strata with no problem for this armor whatsoever. There, Kala discovers why she and her race can never proceed with their plans against the surface world.

Needless to say, Kala is all too willing to release her hostages, practically gushing with thanks to Iron Man. And with Baxu having a clear path with Kala, it seems the Queen of the Netherworld will be content to exist in her own world--now that she's assured that her youth and beauty will remain intact. She may have been willing to take on the forces of the surface world--but it looks like it was a battle with time that was the deal-breaker.

From here, we know that Kala eventually wound up in Subterranea with the Mole Man--but what spoiled her contentment in the Netherworld? Baxu's unexpected, sudden death not long after they were married was one factor; following that, her subjects deposed her as Queen, having never forgiven her for their defeat at the hands of Iron Man. Forced to leave the youth-giving aura of her homeland, she sought out Tyrannus, since he controlled the "fountain of youth" waters which also kept his old age at bay--though she learned that the fountain had fallen under the Mole Man's control.

You can find more details in the "Subterranean Wars" which took place in various annuals from 1991. (Frankly, it's difficult to understand what all these civilizations and factions beneath the Earth are fighting about. If you've seen one cave, you've arguably seen them all.)

Tales Of Suspense #43

Script: Robert Bernstein (as R. Berns)
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Don Heck
Letterer: Art Simek


George Chambers said...

It's amazing how often the bad guys fall for the old "Capture Stark, make him build weapons for us, but give him total privacy while he does it" gag.

Kid said...

Love this story, which I first read in FANTASTIC #7 (a British comic) in 1967. However, its weak point is the total unlikelihood of Stark being able to duplicate his basic armour overnight, never mind all the 'transistorized' weapons he uses against Kala's guards. And Kala seems to be the only person from the Earth's 'centre' who's ever aged on reaching the surface. It would have been better if this angle had been nothing more than some trick of Iron Man's, although how he would accomplish such a ruse would doubtless require some unlikely-sounding explanation. (Transistor-powered hypnotism perhaps?)

Anonymous said...

It's really hot at the center of the Earth so Kala's realm must have great air-conditioning. If the Netherworld was originally Atlantis where did Namor's Atlantis come from ? (I'm assuming Namor's Atlantis was also meant to be THE Atlantis). And if Kala's Netherworld/former Atlantis sank to the Earth's core why didn't it keep on going and eventually end up on the surface again on the other side of the world ? :D

Comicsfan said...

George and Kid, I can't help but agree that Stark casting a fully functional and tested suit of armor, complete with circuitry, in a makeshift lab without supervision is a bit of a stretch. If I were going for a no-prize, I'd probably speculate that the advanced technology of Kala's world was easily able to provide Stark with any materials he might need--including tools and equipment that put his factory's to shame. Though at the very least, I would have arranged to monitor his lab to guard against duplicity--I certainly wouldn't have put it past Kala to spy on him.

Colin, it's funny you mention the existence of the Atlantis of Namor's race being at odds with the Atlantis that became the Netherworld. As I indirectly hinted, a post is shaping up in my mind about it, based on a story I vaguely recall that appeared in Sub-Mariner that was done by Steve Gerber and Howard Chaykin about the ancient continent and the great cataclysm that submerged it. I'm eager to, you'll excuse the expression, dive into it.

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