Avenging the Fantastic, Part 7: The Fantastic Four Explore!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #44-51; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #124, 125; Thor (Hey, look, he got promoted!) #126-130; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #75-79; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #145; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #73-78; The Avengers #25-29; year: 1966.

7533-2045-8308-1-fantastic-fourFantastic Firsts

The Inhumans debut in Fantastic Four #45. Viewers of the Agents of SHIELD TV series have met this hidden, ancient society of super-powered people—but not the comic universe’s main cast of Inhumans, who I suspect are being saved for the upcoming movie, which is slated for 2019. In the comics, we’ve already met Medusa, but in #44 we meet Gorgon and in #45 we meet the rest: Crystal (introduced as a potential love interest for the Human Torch), Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton, and dog Lockjaw. In #47, we meet their nemesis, Maximus.

panel_ff045aImmediately after that adventure, Galactus develops his first craving for the Earth in FF #48, during which the Silver Surfer debuts, initially as the herald of the world-devourer. Yes, this is where the second Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer, draws its inspiration, but ignore that film and read these instead.

And then, because the FF are on such a roll here, Mr. Fantastic visits the Negative Zone for the first time in #51.

Peggy Carter, the character Hayley Atwell has made famous in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuts in a flashback Captain America tale in Tales of Suspense #77, though she is never identified by name.

Many of the Olympus gods debut in Thor #129, including Ares, who will join the Avengers a long, long time from this point.

The Collector (Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy) first fights the Avengers in #28 as a pretty basic villain who uses his vast collection as weapons (using magic beans to summon giants to fight Giant-Man, for example).

Rest In—oh, never mind

The Black Widow, briefly presumed dead, is back in action—but brainwashed this time so she’ll remain loyal to those wicked Soviets. Hawkeye remains stupidly obsessed with her, and the fact that this hasn’t killed him yet is miraculous.

Avengers_Vol_1_28The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Retirement didn’t take for Giant-Man and the Wasp, so they’re back on the team—only now Giant-Man is calling himself Goliath, because Hank Pym needed a third superhero identity in the course of five of our years (starting with Ant-Man, for those just tuning in). Fortunately, the Scarlet Witch took the liberty of sewing a new costume for this man she hardly knows.

The Status is Not Quo

–In the Marvel Universe, secret identities are not forever. Happy Hogan learns that his boss Tony Stark is Iron Man. Thor finally says to Hel with his father’s wishes and tells his beloved Jane Foster that he and Dr. Donald Blake are one and the same (though Dr. Blake has been showing up less and less lately). Goliath and the Wasp reveal their true names to the new Avengers. And Rick Jones, thinking his buddy the Bruce Banner has died, blabs the secret of the Hulk to everyone. Clearly Rick hasn’t been a comic book character long enough at this point to have learned the big rule: No body, no fatality. Heck, even if there is a body, there might not be a fatality.

–Peggy Carter, however, has no idea who Captain America really is.agent-carter---kirby-114814 Their relationship isn’t well defined at this point—they’re already in love when we first see them together. Like her film counterpart, she’s a rare woman fighting for the Allies’ cause in Europe, and she’s strong-willed enough to resist interrogation. Then, while trying to save lives, an explosion injures her and she winds up with amnesia. And she never saw Cap again during WWII. So, her introduction shows some potential. She’s easily the toughest non-super-powered female character we’ve met thus far, probably tougher than the super-powered ones, too, and then…plot device. And she doesn’t even have a name yet! Looks like it’ll be a while before we see her again, too.

“Go ahead…shoot me! At least I shall die for freedom! But when the Allies finally crush you into the muck you rose from, what will you have died for?? Nothing but an insane fuehrer!” You tell ‘em, Peggy.

–The Scarlet Witch’s powers evolve over the years, but they’re still in their original form here. She’s not the telekinetic who can get into people’s minds as she does in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In these comics, she simply has a “hex power.” Basically, she makes a hand gesture, and something goes wrong—an object will topple, the ceiling will cave in, a machine will malfunction, etc. In about forty years from these issues, she’ll really make things go wrong—first for the Avengers, and then for the X-Men. But that’s a ways off.

FantasticFour49-00General Thoughts

–I was going to see the new Fantastic Four movie, but then it got a 9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Instead, this read-through reached a great string of classic FF issues that capture what the group is supposed to be about.

Reviews of the new movie backed up the concerns I had about the trailer—it looked too serious and too small-scale. That’s the opposite of the FF.

In these issues, within a short span of time, they meet an ancient super-powered race that has lived on our world for millennia without our knowing it. They stop a giant alien from eating the planet, aided by another alien who flies through space on a surfboard. And then they discover a whole separate dimension of reality. And they have all these ridiculous adventures while wearing their eccentric personalities on their sleeves.

FantasticFour49-15Yeah, the 1960s style leaves plenty of flaws, but these issues are shamelessly fun, and some substance is even snuck in here and there.

People joke that the only good Fantastic Four movie has been The Incredibles. That’s partly true. The Pixar film captures a family dynamic that’s at the core of the FF, but when it comes down to it, the FF aren’t primarily superheroes. They’re explorers on a grand, cosmic scale who will step up to save the world when needed. The Avengers are the more traditional superheroes who are more actively on the lookout for threats.

Culture Smash!

–An antagonistic senator wants Iron Man to serve the public good, kind of like what we see in Iron Man 2, but with far less Gary Shandling. This senator is (wisely) portrayed as a decent man who’s doing what he feels is right, rather than a slimy politician. Yes, the comic has the less cartoony portrayal, go figure.

“He’s got to learn that Iron Man cannot work only for him (Stark), when the entire nation might benefit by his powers!” Senator Byrd tells Pepper Potts in Tales of Suspense #75.

Of course, Iron Man is already serving the nation on his own terms, and that’s been working out pretty well for everyone.

–In Journey Into Mystery #124, Thor is on a sidewalk about to swing his hammer to take off…and then a police officer stops him for not having “a license to give a public demonstration in the street.” Not even the Marvel Universe is immune to regulatory ordinances, it seems. And this is what distinguished Marvel from DC back then—Marvel’s heroes, despite their power, had to deal with mundane obstacles from time to time, which were often used lightheartedly, as in this example.

Trending Then

–Freakish superheroes. In addition to the Hulk and Thing, we now have Goliath permanently trapped at ten feet tall—well, as permanently as anything in the physics-defying comic book world.

Highlights

The Fantastic Four issues, as discussed above. But let’s focus on one in particular:

thisman2Fantastic Four #51: This is the finest single issue yet in this read-through, and it may well hold up as among the finest FF books, period. An unnamed, scientist who envies Reed Richards’ success, lures the self-pitying Thing into his apartment and steals his powers, reverting Ben Grimm to human form. Posing as the Thing, this scientist infiltrates the FF as Reed is trying create faster-than-light travel in his quest to build defenses against threats like Galactus (the world was almost eaten like yesterday, remember). He’s preparing to embark on a one-man exploration of sub-space but is depending on the Thing to keep him anchored to their dimension. When Reed gets into trouble, this nameless scientist who set out to destroy the FF just has to wait it out…but seeing Reed selflessly and privately undertaking this dangerous mission, without fanfare, begins to affect the scientist. It’s a short but incredibly effective redemption tale during which not a single punch is thrown. If the recent movie left a bad taste in your mouth, rinse it out with this issue, and the several issues that precede it.

Lowlights

The Hulk may be the strongest there is, but his series…is not. It feels like it keeps reinventing itself without actually advancing the story. Now Banner’s in control of the Hulk! Now he’s working for the Leader! Now he’s getting dumb again! Now he’s randomly thrown into the future! Nevertheless, now that his identity’s out of the bag, maybe we’ll start getting some good forward momentum. Maybe?

The Quotable Marvel

“Stop sounding like a wife and find me that gun, lady!” –Reed Richards to Sue Richards, FF #45. At this rate, I should just start a whole Mr. Fantastic is a jerk category…

“Destroy is merely a word! We simply change things! We change elements into energy…the energy which sustains Galactus! For it is only he that matters!” –the Silver Surfer, FF #49, philosophizing his way into a communism metaphor.

“Flying horses don’t leave hoofprints on window-sills without a reason!” –Tony Stark, genius, in TOS #73

“The name’s Captain America, mister! But you can call me Cap!” –Captain America, to a guy he’s punching out in Avengers #27. Wait, his friends call him Cap, so…this bad guy…huh?

“This is amazing! It’s the last thing I’d ever have expected!” –Quicksilver’s last line in Avengers #27

“It’s from a scientist named Henry Pym! He wants us to help him find the Wasp!” –Quicksilver’s first line in Avengers #28, telling us the amazing last thing he’d ever have expected.

To Be Continued…

Introducing the Black Panther!