“If only I could find a way to eliminate this force field — to free the Super Apes! I would take my chances with them rather than the Red Ghost, for they are like the communist masses, innocently enslaved by their evil leaders!”
There has been an explosion in Reed’s labs, but he emerges uninjured with a new booster fuel that he found from a meteor in Siberia. Within the week the Fantastic Four will be able to visit the moon, in particular a strange ‘blue area’ that Reed has noticed. Meanwhile, the Red Ghost is using his trained apes to man his own space rocket. The two groups take off at exactly the same time. In a special harness, Johnny is able to fly through space and he spots the other ship and looks in at its windows to see the Red Ghost and his apes gaining super powers after passing through the same cosmic belt that gave the FF their powers. When the FF land, they find the ruins of a lunar civilization in the Blue Area, and then they run afoul of the Red Ghost’s apes. Then a gigantic figure called The Watcher appears and separates them all, transporting them into the buildings beneath the moon’s surface to fight out ownership of the moon. The FF win and are allowed to leave, the Watcher bestowing upon them space as their ‘heritage’. The Red Ghost remains on the moon, chased by his apes.
The creators’ philosophizing on the plight of the exploited workers is, fortunately, pretty much the only drawback to this issue’s enjoyment. It pops up a few times, and is in fact the inciting incident of this issue. The literally explosive opening of this story sees Reed discovering a new type of fuel that will enable the FF to beat the Russians in the moon race.
This, incidentally, is the reason that sent the FF into space in the first issue, giving them their powers. The continuity is appreciated in what is really a rather discontinuous series. Joyfully, the FF’s adventures to Planet X are not referenced, and apparently forgotten, let’s hope, for good. They don’t even decide to take the flying saucer they stole from X’s inhabitants, but their own craft. No doubt out of a sense of fair play.
And so they make their oddly untrumpeted excursion to our orbiting moon, unaware that on the other side of the glove, a Russian genius, Kargoff, is doing the same thing, only with a group of trained apes as a crew. He is aware of the FF’s efforts, and also aware of the cosmic ray storm (still apparently outside of Earth’s orbit) and has designed a ship that will let every cosmic ray through in order to affect super powers in himself and his trained apes.
It’s actually a really well put together issue, political commentary aside. The cover proclaims “enough fantasy and super-characters to fill 3 magazines” and it doesn’t lie. At the end of the tale, you feel as if you’ve read a longer (and more thoughtful) story than any of the 12 previous.
This is also the first introduction of The Watcher (yet unnamed). At first meeting, he seems to talk an awful lot for someone who has vowed only to watch, and his edict that the FF and Red Ghost will settle once and for all the ownership of the moon, in order to avoid a future war seems to go against his expressed philosophy. So as yet, he is not a fully-formed character. But we do get to see some measure of his incomprehensible powers, and that is an aspect that will continue.
It’s a great yarn, and also notable for the fact that this issue has Steve Ditko inking Kirby’s pencils — the only time he has done that for the Fantastic Four. To have two visionaries working on the same issue makes it, in my opinion, the best art of the early FF period, notable especially in the depiction of the moon’s ruined Blue Area, and in showing the Red Ghost getting his powers.