Friday, October 14, 2016

The Dream and the Nightmare


Name This Marvel Villain??

Obviously this fellow has some affiliation with Nazi Germany; in fact, if you didn't know better, you'd think he was a cross between Master Man (a foe of the Invaders) and Egghead. (Though let's be careful not to give Marvel any ideas.) Let's have a look at his cover debut, where he goes up against one of Marvel's heaviest hitters.

Wait--"Captain Axis"? If the name isn't ringing a bell, it's because this villain had a very short shelf life, meeting his end after only one issue. Nor was he really a participant in World War II, at least the one fought on our world. Yet scientist Otto Kronsteig was very much a product of Hitler's Third Reich--as well as the Shaper of Worlds, who makes his debut in this story, as well. We'll let Otto himself, living out his dream courtesy of the Shaper, explain his circumstances, where we discover he's had the misfortune of running into another disreputable scientist.

And so Kronsteig was granted his dream of not only the Third Reich having triumphed over the allied forces of the world, but also prominent status in this revised history--another world war, taking place and escalating on a sub-atomic world.

But how did the Hulk become involved, much less find his way to Kronsteig's dream-world? And how does Captain Axis enter the picture? We'd have to go back one issue to trace the Hulk's movements, where we'd find him attempting to rejoin his lost love, Jarella, on her sub-atomic world and ends up downing an experimental and dangerous serum created by Henry Pym (does the man produce any other kind?), painfully shrinking in an out-of-control descent that lands him (as Bruce Banner) on Kronsteig's world--a very cool series of scenes rendered by artist Herb Trimpe (with John Severin) which is pretty awesome storytelling.

The violence of the events involved soon triggers Banner's change into the Hulk--and while struggling to make sense of his surroundings, the Hulk finds that the participants of this "war" aren't human. Eventually, the "Americans" explain the Shaper's involvement--and the Hulk's course is set.

With the Hulk's help, the German forces suffer one defeat after another--though it should be pointed out that the phrase "war is hell" is particularly applicable here, since the casualties inflicted on both sides are being suffered by the aliens of this world, forced by the Shaper's power to fight each other and die in a war they never wanted. It's a horrific aspect to this story that writer Archie Goodwin unfortunately only skims, settling instead for attaching a quality of indifference to the Shaper that makes his farewell at the story's conclusion fall far short of an apology or regret, much less reparations. On the other hand, the Shaper's self-serving actions quite clearly define his character in this initial appearance, so perhaps there is no happy ending to be found here.

Kronsteig is certainly not happy about his promised dream being foiled by the Hulk--nor is the Shaper, when he meets with his associate and discovers the threat of the man-monster. But the answer to stopping the Hulk may lie with another dream of Kronsteig's which the Shaper can tap into and give form.

The Shaper's summit with Kronsteig occurs just as the Americans and the Hulk are moving on Nazi headquarters, where the Hulk makes a typically explosive entrance and bellows his challenge to the Shaper. In response, the Shaper has manifested Kronsteig's dream of a Nazi super-agent in the man himself, reborn in the same way as the insane cause he once again serves.

Unfortunately for Kronsteig, there's the dream, and there's reality--and by admitting the former, Captain Axis fades along with Kronsteig's expectations of a Nazi victory.

The Shaper is enraged at the outcome, and confronts the Hulk in the only way he knows--by turning to the Hulk's dreams instead. Yet the Hulk, having seen first-hand the futility of someone's dreams, has no intention of accepting the Shaper's will, violently lashing out at the phantasms plucked from his memories--even that of Jarella, whom he demands the Shaper physically send him to. Finally, realizing the futility of his approach, the Shaper decides to do just that.

We're left to presume that Kronsteig has been abandoned on this world--and it's possible that the indigenous race that survived the Shaper's bloody incursion wants nothing more to do with killing or even violence. Just the same, Kronsteig would be wise to start making tracks--because Captain Axis, like the war he was once a willing part of, is history.


JungGRT said...

Thank you for posting this! This comic has a special place in my heart-it was one of the first comix I ever read, and was a b-day present from my folks!!

Comicsfan said...

Very glad you enjoyed it, Gordon!

Warren JB said...

"Can YOU name this Marvel villain?"

Um... Sloth-from-the-Goonies' evil twin?

Trippy, trippy story. It gives me that same kind of feeling of existential horror as when I saw The Incredible Shrinking Man for the first time. Here, I wonder what the liklihood is of finding the same subatomic world of Jarella, or of Kronstieg, at random. There are an awful lot of molecules out there, and they don't get any easier to sort through when you shrink enough for them to appear as entire universes.

Which have entire universes inside their molecules, and so on, and so on, etc.

What if the Hulk shrank too far and was in a subatomic universe inside Jarella's universe?

Oh no, I've gone cross-eyed.

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to wonder how many universes I destroyed by getting a haircut last week.

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