“After all these years… all these adventures… we’re still together. We’re still a team! The greatest team ever!”
The Fantastic Four, returning from the Inhuman’s hidden kingdom somewhere, presumably, in the Nepalese mountains, are shot out of the sky by an unseen enemy, who turns out to be Kang the Conqueror. Confronting him, they find he is in league with Doctor Doom. After Crystal defeats them, they are discovered to be androids, and they deduce that the Puppet Master must be behind the attacks. What follows is a chase through desert, river, and mountain pass by some of the FF’s cast of villains. Eventually defeating them all, they are free to return home. Unknown to them, the two people responsible for the android attacks — the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master — have created an android version of The Hulk and it has turned on them, causing them to detonate their headquarters.
Although this is an issue 100 milestone, Marvel has not yet customarily dignified such events with longer issues — in fact, due to a half-page advertisement on pages 12 and 13 (not seen before in this title), it’s a full page shorter than any of the previous 99 issues. But the creators certainly have managed to cram a lot of action into the 19 pages. There are many familiar faces here, and a couple surprisingly unfamiliar ones. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see a full list of 19 villains who make an appearance — an average of one per page (the apes counts as three, Atlanteans count as one). The rookie award goes to Kang the Conqueror, appearing for the first time in this title. Narrowly beating out the Super-Skrull for shortest cameo is Diablo, who only (partially) appears in one panel. Most ineffectual cameo also goes to Diablo because in that panel he is shown falling over. Most surprising cameo is the Hate-Monger who I personally thought that everyone had agreed to forget.
Of course, these are not the real villains, they are only android versions of the same so the case could be argued that these characters do not actually appear in this issue, only their replicas — Puppet Master and Thinker excepted. On the other hand, they all act exactly like their original counterparts down to their squabbling relations to each other and the exact details of their powers. It begs the question why the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker went to the trouble to recreate The Trapper’s chemical paste, the Wizard’s anti-gravity discs, the Red Ghost’s intangibility, an absolute mob of Atlanteans, etc., etc., etc. Would not an army of one type of villain be more effective? Or replicas of the FF themselves, or the Avengers?
But that would, of course, defeat the purpose of the issue, which is a celebration of the title, which was then, and still is, Marvel’s longest running title to date. What Lee and Kirby have presented their readers with is a curtain call of their creative powers. The flow of the story has a strikingly dreamlike quality as the FF are pursued by everyone wishing them the most harm as they are at the first seen falling through the air, hen trotting through the desert on camels which apparently transition instantly into a raft which at one point become airborn as Ben flings it ahead of him, then to be chased by a tidal wave and ending up in a rickety motor car negotiating mountain passes… it really is a dizzying chase, and the cover descriptor ‘fantastic’ has rarely been more directly applicable to the interior’s contents. Logic certainly takes a back seat to spectacle as a fairly impressive list of antagonists are trotted before us. It would have been nice to see as long a list of allies as well, but it is also appropriate that the five members of the FF stand on their own against the horde. Even Sue and Crystal get their own showcase as together the women take down the three members of the Frightful Four — effectively dismantling them in just a page. For the second time Crystal trounces the Wizard, as comprehensively as she did in issue 81. It’s a tale that ends too soon — the story certainly warranted a double-sized treatment, or at least a continuation into the next issue. But the Puppet Master and the Thinker succumbing to their own hubris is a fairly satisfying resolution, if rather abrupt.
There’s plenty to nitpick here for anyone that wants to — why don’t the villains themselves gang together against the FF? Why do the FF leap to the conclusion of the Puppet Master being the man behind the simulacra when Reed obviously pulls android parts from the ruined Doombot, and not mystical clay? Indeed, why do they not suspect Doom himself who often uses robot duplicates? And once again, why are the FF so very unconcerned with getting to the root cause of their conflict? For all they know, the Puppet Master is still able and at large. And why does the Mad Thinker just apparently follow the Puppet Master around all the time, hands behind his back, like a safety supervisor?
But it’s a very cold and cynical heart that could follow Lee and Kirby’s exploits for 100 issues — virtually nine years to the day since the first issue was printed — and who, knowing that the classic run will soon enough come to an end, would begrudge them the obvious fun they’re having in what is the symbolic end to their astonishing accomplishments on the title.