The last time I did a comprehensive FF re-read I stopped with the last of the Kirby issues (or rather the first two of the four Romita issues that wrapped up the story). That brings me up to Fantastic Four #105. John Romita was as humble to take over Fantastic Four for the King in 1970 as he had been to take over Spider-Man from Steve Ditko in 1966. He didn't feel qualified in either case, as did his best to draw in their respective styles both times. Why Stan Lee didn't assign Joe Sinnott to ink I have no idea, but #103-105 were inked by John Verpoorten.
#105 opens with the Thing, Johnny and Crystal enjoying some hot dogs from a street vendor, when suddenly the city is wracked by a series of explosions. Crystal unexpectedly collapses, and Johnny flies her back to the Baxter Building to seek Reed Richards' help. Meanwhile, Sue has been shopping and finds herself closer to the source of the mysterious explosions. She goes to the street to find Dr. Zoltan Rambow, a colleague of Reed's, pursuing an energy being.
Back at the Baxter Building, Reed has diagnosed Crystal as having an adverse reaction to the pollution she has no resistance to and says she must return to the Inhumans' Great Refuge or die. Reed has also discovered, in Crystal's DNA, what he thinks can be a cure to the thing's condition. Summoning Lockjaw, Crystal quickly says her goodbyes and departs immediately for the Great Refuge. Johhny flies off in frustration and soon comes upon his sister in conflict with the energy being. Sue cannot leave the conflict, but urges her brother to get Reed and Ben. Johnny returns to the Baxter Building only to find Reed at a critical juncture in his attempt to cure Ben.
CLIFFHANGER: Reed must choose between the life of his wife and that of his best friend.
It is widely accepted that Jack Kirby plotted most if not all of the Fantastic Four stories. I have generally come to the conclusion that if Stan Lee is credited with "script" that Jack Kirby provided the plot (or at least co-plotted). The credits for this issue list Stan Lee "story" and John Romita "illustration." #105 is one of the most densely-plotted and action-packed issues in a long time (the Sub-Mariner/Magneto conflict notwithstanding). Jack Kirby certainly didn't have anything to do with this issue. I think just because Stan Lee hadn't been regularly plotting Fantastic Four for some time doesn't mean he couldn't.
I wasn't thrilled about the Namor/Sue kiss because I feel that Sue wouldn't have gone along with it. Maybe a quick peck on the lips but nothing like that!
Of course, sometimes one does get the impression that there are some at Marvel who want Sue and Namor (Samor?) to be a couple as they have teased that at least half-a-dozen times after Byrne!
Oh, don't even.
Just to play devil's advocate, here is Sue's reaction to that kiss: "Well, that was interesting. You certainly haven't lost your... touch, Namor." And Namor responds: "A reminder Susan. A reminder of spmething which never truly was, but might have been, in another world, another time." which brings up up to...
Byrne takes advantage of AEM (and his own reputation) to insert himself into the plot, not just a cameo but a full-blown participant! The Watcher decides that, in Byrne's capacity as official chronicaler of the FF, that he should be witness to Reed Richards' trial. Reed is being tried under the M'Ndavian system of justice. Dozens of colored globes are suspended from the ceiling, their lights constantly flickering and changing.
"They monitor the emotions, the judgements of all present. Thus all--accused, witnesses, prosecution, defense--all are judge and jury, and should all the globes turn white at any time, then is the verdict not guilty, and the trial is at an end."
This is a trial so it's a wordy issue, but it's not all talking heads; Byrne makes it visually interesting as well. The Watcher, acting as defense counsel, sends Johnny to Asgard to call a special witness: Odin himself! Odin gives his testimony (based on Thor #160-162, 167-169), declares the trial ended and disappears. Unfortunately for Reed, Odin has no authority in this court and not everyone is convinced. Suddenly, Nova appears and blasts the globe to smithereens, heralding the arrival of Galactus himself.
Unfortunately, the presence of Galactus among so many survivors of worlds he has ravaged does more harm than good. [Incidentally, if you've ever wondered why Galactus wears Greco-Roman garb with a big "G" on his chest, Byrne makes clear that every race interprets Galactus, really more a force of nature than a physical being, in a way their minds can accept.] Then Galactus and the Watcher together summon Eternity. Eternity makes the entire courtroom and everyone in it "one with the universe" so that everyone understands that Galactus has a place in it. After that, Reed is unanimously found to be not guilty of the destruction of the Skrull Throne-world. The knowledge of everyone has learned from Eternity will soon fade from their minds, but the overall lesson will not.
And that's a good spot to stop for the day. A note to doc photo and anyone else reading my posts who hasn't read the comics: in no way are my poor thoughts intended to be a replacement for the comics themselves. When you do go to read the comics for the first time, you'll find there are a lot of details I've glossed over or left out entirely (such as the story of Xxan Xxar this issue, which takes the the entirety of page 18). I do this not only not to spoil everything, but also to leave plenty of room to foster discussion. Feel free to continue to jump in at any time, as Luke and Philip and Bob and others have been doing.
Which leads to this scene from Squirrel Girl #4:
[Incidentally, if you've ever wondered why Galactus wears Greco-Roman garb with a big "G" on his chest, Byrne makes clear that every race interprets Galactus, really more a force of nature than a physical being, in a way their minds can accept.]
"I must also state that I was fairly upset that the team-up books were phased out during this period as Marvel Two In One became The Thing"
Here's what the Thing himself had to say about that in the back-up feature from The Thing #7: "It wuzn't bad enough when I couldn't convince 'em a superstar like me could carry a whole book alone... all them years I had ta put up with sharin' th' spotlight with a different second-rater every issue... now... this!"
Sue's Hairstyle Update: At one point, Marvel ran the "Sue's Coiffure Contest" in which fans could design Sue's next hairstyle. Early results were published on the "Fantastic Four Fan Page" of #263, with John Bryne rendering the two front-runners at that time, one of which was a mohawk. (I'm glad that one didn't win.) The other one wasn't so hot, either. Fans could either send a drawing or a photo, but the guidelines were that it couldn't be her current hairstyle nor cold it be any she wore prior to #232. (It also had to be simple enough to draw multiple times per issue.) The point was to draw something new. By #263, 538 submissions had been received. Nine applicants whose ideas had already been rejected were presented with "honorable mentions."
Today is likely to be a "short day" because it's only three issues until I get to the next natural "break point" (unless I'm feeling motivated to continue).
The story this issue picks up four and a half months after the "Trial of Reed Richards." Reed and sue are settling into their new suburban domestic life, and Johnny and Ben are in California. I've already mentioned how Reed uses his powers to change his face in order to maintain a secret identity. In addition, he also follows a certain routine. Every morning, he takes the local bus to "work," but actually to a rented garage where the FantastiCar is kept. Then he flies it into Manhattan, using sensor deflectors to get out of town unseen.
Ben has accompanied Johnny to Disneyland Wonderworld to participate in a race they are sponsoring. Also on the scene is Julie D'Angelo, Clad in a bikini for a photo shoot. She has moved to California with Grey Landers to pursue acting opportunities, but so far hasn't had much luck. Sending clear mixed signals, she gives Johnny a big smack on the mouth! (Don't worry; this is the last we see of her.)
The event is something of a "mystery race" in that none of the racers are known in advance. As Johnny is zipping around the track at 200 m.p.h., he passes through a tunnel, loses control and smashes up! The body is burned beyond recognition, an ironic end for the Human Torch. But Ben isn't buying it. He goes to see the head man, the reclusive Walt Disney Alden Maas, who lives on a star-shaped artificial island off the coast who hasn't been seen in 15 years.
Maas' island isn't really star-shaped; it merely has the trees landscaped in to the shape of a star. He has some rather radical ideas related to tectonic shifts, and believes that the Earth's core is cooling enough to cause the planet to shrink, leading to a loss of land mass in the face of a rising global population. He theorizes that, with the proper heat source, the core can be infused with heat which will cause the planet to grow enough to accommodate Earth's population explosion. He calls his operation "Project: Worldcore."
He sees himself as the savior of all mankind and refers to himself as the Messiah. He makes no secret of the fact that his heat source is Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Ben tries to set him free, but accidentally falls into the deep tunnel drilled into the Earth's crust. When he lands, he is found by the Mole Man!
The cover is the third (of six) homages to that of FF #1 that John Byrne himself has done. That's not the only tribute, but the other is far more subtle. The story's title, "Inferno," is rendered in a "Jim Steranko Effect" (by way of Neal Adams).
Project: Worldcore has devastated the Moleman's underground kingdom of Subterranea. He's seeking vengeance and naturally assumes the Thing is responsible. It's up to Ben to convince the Mole Man that it is actually Alden Maas who is responsible. John Byrne interjects some real science via the Mole Man's reaction to Maas's plan: "The earth would not expand. The crust would rupture. All the surface would be innundated."
Back in New York, Reed investigates an energy glitch from "somewhere in Central Park." This phrase gives Byrne the opportunity to demonstrate another of his hallmarks: geography lessons. These can be found mainly in Alpha Flight, but he takes this opportunity to explain: "Only a New Yorker can truly appreciate the enormity of those words. Two and a half miles long, half a mile wide, the park covers 840 acres in the very heart of Manhattan." Meanwhile, in Belle Port, Sue is experiencing some troubling spasms with her pregnancy.
Back in California, the thing and the Mole Man come to Johnny's rescue, but first they have to fight off an army of mechanical cartoon characters such as Maxie Mouse and Hopalong Hippo. It looks as if they're going to shut down Project: Worldcore, but Maas has a "Plan B": a thermonuclear device. It's not as efficient and the torch's nova bursts, but it should serve to "reignite" the core. Luckily, the Mole Man has a contingency plan himself: his giant monster. By the time they fight their way to the control room, Alden Maas is dead.
Maas's chief flunky explains: "Sixteen point oh-nine-five years [ago], Mr. Maas succumbed to a degenerative nervous disorder, characterized by failing metabolic functions and delusions of grandeur. In the last year of his true life he came to think of himself as the savior of humankind, the living messiah... And so he began building on this island the mechanisms necessary for Project: Worldcore... and the development of the extended animation chamber, which prolonged his existence... until now."
He goes on to explain that the thermonuclear device would have been insufficient to fire the core in any case. When the Thing demands to know why they went along with him, the flunky replies, "To keep him happy and contented, sir... as we were programmed to do." then the entire robot staff marches into the sea with Maas's corpse, eventually to be crushed by the pressure. Incidentally, Maas's island was originally star-shaped, but the dirt from Project: Worldcore was dumped offshore.
NEXT: Off to war (the "secret" one).
THE THING #10:
I didn't appreciate Ron Wilsons penciling at the time, but it really appeals to me now. Byrne's "slice-of-life" story begins with the Thing and Alicia (with her closely-cropped, post-ordeal haircut) walking through Central Park. The first caption reads: "Forget everything you've heard about Central Park"... just after he told us all about it in FF #264! Apparently he had been doing some research because of this issue's story and wanted to tell us some more about it.
Ben and Alicia are having a serious conversation about their relationship, interrupted only for Ben to destroy a statue and frighten some children. Their walk continues to the Baxter Building where they continue their conversation, prompting a flashback to just after their rocket crash-landed and they discovered their powers, when the Army picked them up. Just as the resolve that their relationship needs to change (in some unspecified manner, foreshadowing events to come), Reed Richards bursts in and says the energy he monitored in the park in FF #264 has spiked again and he calls the team to investigate. Sue is too far along in her pregnancy to go on field missions at this point, so she stays behind.
Reed, Ben and Johnny arrive in the "Sheep Meadow" to find a huge construct. They enter and are immediately transported away! That's a good place to stop for the day (or at least pause). I've got some yardwork I didn't get to over the weekend because it was raining.
Alden Maas's name is an anagram of "Neal Adams". Adams believes Earth is expanding. Byrne has said he came up with the idea for the story before noticing the resemblance.
Oh, thanks for pointing that out! That name sounded like an anagram, but I suck at figuring them out. Once I determined it wasn't "Walt Disney" I moved on. But I know that about Neal Adams. I remember when he took out a full page ad in... Comic Book Artist, was it?... to promote his theory, saying he had proof and was working on a graphic novel on the subject. Now I'm certain the lettering of the title in #264 was intentional. I'm not certain how he could "[come] up with the idea for the story before noticing the resemblance." though. Was he supposed to have added the title lettering and anagram as an afterthought?
Anyway, moving on...
A couple of weeks ago I started this discussion, one about Thor and one about Dr. Strange. when the Dr. Strange one was over, I had planned to follow it up with a discussion of She-Hulk. I had planned to time it so that I would reach Fantastic Four #265 in both remaining discussions simultaneously. That did happen, but I'm at #265 in this discussion now.
We'll call this the beginning of JB's third overall arc, the "She-Hulk Arc," my favorite. This issue contains two stories: "The House that Reed Built" (in which the Trapster invades the FF's empty HQ and is overcome by the Baxter Building's automated defense system), and "Home are the Heroes" (from the "Secret Wars"). The second story picks up about a week or so after The Thing #10, and fills in the gap of what has happened since. Sue has been staying at Avengers Mansion so as to be closer to the Sheep Meadow.
One day, she, Alicia and Franklin go for a walk in the park when all of the missing heroes just happen to return. She scans the field and sees Reed and Johnny together, but with them, instead of the Thing, stand the She-Hulk in an FF uniform! No sooner are they reunited than Sue is struck by a burst of hard radiation... apparently from inside her! She-Hulk rushes her to Mercy General while the Torch flies ahead to notify the hospital that an emergency case is on the way.
If I didn't know better, I'd swear this was an inventory issue. It has a three-page framing sequence set around a flashback drawn by another artist (Kerry Gammil). John Byrne inks, though, and the results look so much like Byrne's solo work I hadn't even remembered (or, perhaps, known) that this issue was essentially a "fill-in" to build suspense for the birth of Reed and Sue's second child. One can tell by Sue's hairstyle approximately when this story took place. It features a decidedly "1960s style" villainess, and the whole point of the story (other than marking time) seems to be to set up an atrocious pun.
In the present day, by the time the story opens, someone has already informed Alicia of Ben's decision to stay behind on the planet of the Secret Wars (because he can control his transformations there). she wants only what's best for him and is surprisingly okay with his decision. In the meantime, Reed has called in the leading radiation experts in the field to act as consultants: Bruce Banner (gamma), Walter Langkowski (gamma) and Michael Morbius (blood radiology). They are at a loss as to how to proceed, though, and on the last page Langkowski suggests bringing in one of his old college professors (in yet another word balloon that pulls double-duty as a "nest issue" blurb): the troubled "DOCTOR OCTOPUS!"
I have very specific memories about this issue. I knew Reed and Sue's second child was due to be born, and so was my brother and sister-in-law's. As it happened, this issue shipped not only the same week, but on the very day my nephew was born. Knowing the vagaries of "comic book time," I planned to compare this character's life with my nephew's, and save a copy of this issue to present to him at the proper time. How did that plan work out? Keep reading...
Reed ultimately agrees to Lankowski's suggestion, but he has to be talked into it. Octavius is being held at the South Brooklyn Psychiatric Facility, a short hop away in via short-range Fantasticar. When Reed arrives, he finds Octavius disoriented, cutting out paper dolls. He appeals to Octavius' professional identity, and this tactic seems to reach him. By the time they depart, Dr. Octavius is seemingly back to his old self, but his doctor looks at those "paper dolls" and discovers they are actually paper octopi.
On the way. they pass one of J. Jonah Jameson's Daily Bugle billboards posing the eternal question: "Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?" this is enough to trigger Octavius' psychosis. At the NYPD Security Holding area, Octavius' octopus arms become active and make their was to intercept the FantastiCar. Octavius doesn't seem to be aware, at first, of what is happening; the arms are being controlled by his subconscious mind. as the battle wears on, however, Octavius' "Dr. Octopus" persona emerges. Mr. Fantastic defeats him in a manner Spider-Man never thought of, and again appeals to him professional identity to help Sue, and once again convinces him to help.
Back at the hospital, however, something terrible has happened. Johnny and Alicia commiserate. Has sue died in childbirth? Soon Reed and Octavius arrive and Reed is informed that Sue "lost the baby a little over thirty minutes ago."
Remember when Sue Richards picked up Dr. Doom's mask at the end of #260? Well, that decision is about to come back and bite 'em on the arse.
The story picks up about two hours after the end of #267. This is still She-Hulk's first day on the team, remember, and she's feeling really uncomfortable, like an outsider. Doc Ock finally snaps and attacks Bruce Banner. Banner Hulks out, but Reed stops him from fighting and defeats Doc Ock with a stern talking to.
Johnny takes She-Hulk to the Baxter Building to show her around, thereby giving Jen the opportunity to recap her origin on the way. Eventually Johnny's tour takes them to the closest thing the FF have to a "trophy room," the place where Reed keeps all the dangerous devices and whatnot confiscated from super-villains and the like. Dr. Doom's mask is Chekov's "gun on the mantlepiece." She-Hulk expresses relief that Dr. Doom is one villain she's glad she'll never have to face (which is an odd thing to say considering she met him on the planet of the Secret Wars).
Meanwhile, at Reed and Sue's home in Belle Port, the "Benjamin's" nosy across-the-street neighbor is caught snooping around the house by their next door neighbor, Alice Winchell and her son Danny. (More on all three of these characters when I get to #276.)
Doom's mask "activates" and the majority of the issue is Johnny and She-Hulk fighting against it. Reed Richards soon joins them and deduces how to defeat the mask. He had previously examined it and knows that it's not capable of independent function. Therefore, it must be controlled by some Outside force. He shuts the Baxter Building off from all outside broadcasts, and the mask falls useless to the floor. Reed reiterates that Doom is dead (a discrepancy which will eventually be cleared up in #287-288 but we need not concern ourselves with here), but also points out that the Latverian Embassy has refused to acknowledge that fact, which leads him to wonder if maybe Doom is alive after all...?