“You arrive too late, Benjamin Grimm. As much as it pains me to hurt a member of the weaker sex — the Torch must be eliminated — at once!“
The new Fantastic Four (Medusa having replaced Sue) are moping around the streets of New York, waiting for the New Year, and 1974 to change into 1975. On a clock tower overhead they spy Thundra who challenges Ben Grimm to combat. To ensure his compliance, she captures Alicia Masters and sets a rendevous time and place. Both Ben and Thundra train and at the appointed time, at Shea Stadium, they begin to fight. Thundra quickly gains and maintains the upper hand, roundly trouncing Ben at every engagement. It is only as the last punch is about to be thrown that Reed fires a gun that he has brought with him. Its ray hits Ben and he begins to flicker back and forth between his human and rocky forms. Thundra refuses to fight him under this now-weakened condition and leaves in high dudgeon. It is then revealed that, due to her personal code of honor, she has released Alicia to the FF, much to the ire of the Frightful Four.
The first that should be said about this issue is that it features the remarkable work of Ramona Fradon. A mainstay at early DC (she had a respected run on Aquaman and helped create Elemento) she only produced one printed work at Marvel Comics… and this is it! It’s a real shame since, although at first glance her art may seem overly-stylized, her work carries an expert flow and an exceptional use of composition and focal points. Reportedly, she could not get on with the very loose Marvel style of writing (at that time), and this shows in the pacing of the issue, which is a little uneven and carries very little finessing.
But she should not be though less of for this. Here we have the first female penciler of Fantastic Four, and thus also its first co-writer. And this is a good issue for her to have had a hand in. Gerry Conway is credited as scripter, but Roy Thomas is the plotter and this issue is another solid effort in the new direction that he has been taking this title in. We last saw Thundra rather recently in issues 129 & 130 and readers from just a few months earlier will remember her inverted gender primacy assumptions (i.e. that men are inferior to women). This is 1974 remember, although even then it shouldn’t be a foreign concept, but it is at odds with the Stan Lee establishing run. Also notable by her absence is Sue Richards, referenced in the first few pages. And whereas when she dropped out of sight in previous issues, this is a world removed from her avowed homemaker priorities — here it is a resounding statement of power that she is still holding out against Reed’s misogyny.
The only questionable aspect of this issue’s theme of female empowerment is that it shows a woman overpowering a man by displaying extremely masculine qualities. Despite the fact that she is being shown as far more honorable than her villain compatriots, she isn’t being affirmed for any traditionally female qualities — only violent and typically male ones. It’s up to readers to decide if this is a forward step in gender equality, or merely a lateral one, but I think the answer to this explains why women did not flock to comics in the mid-Seventies.