142. No Friend Beside Him

Issue One Hundred and Forty-Two. Jan 1974

Issue One Hundred and Forty-Two. Jan 1974

“Any sane mortal in your position would be groveling.

SUMMARY
The Fantastic Four apparently are disbanding (however, in direct contradiction of the title, they all have gone with a friend). Ben first of all goes after Alicia, flying to Europe. He meets up with her and Dr Stutgart in the Balkans. Back in New York, Medusa persuades Reed to go out to a restaurant with her. At that time, Ben is attacked by a monster calling himself Darkoth, who alludes to a master who he is taking orders from. Ben fights and the monster disappears. Johnny meanwhile is off with Wyatt, trying to find justification for his leaving. Back in Europe, Alicia is about to undergo an operation to attempt to cure her blindness. After several hours sitting outside the operating theater, Ben storms through the doors and finds it empty. Then he is attacked by Darkoth again, who he defeats, but only after becoming completely exhausted. Days later, Reed attends a college reunion where they find Doctor Doom.

COMMENTARY
This issue marks the hand-off to a new regular artist, Rich Buckler, one of only a handful of artists to work on the title, and only the third regular penciler. He is a very good artist, with a fluidity very like Buscema, but some of his panel compositions are very Kirby-esque. He also breaks up the page in a more interesting way than Buscema.

However, there is a serious problem in the plotting! The Marvel method of comic writing at the time meant that the pencilers worked from a loose plot outline from the writer (usually a half-page paragraph) and broke down the story in the way that they wanted. Occasionally problems would occur that had to be fixed by the writer in narration and dialogue afterwards. Such a problem is what we’re faced with here where Reed and Medusa, going by the pictures alone, find themselves alone in the Baxter Building and Medusa persuades Reed to go to a gathering of his friends, and at the end of the issue they find Doctor Doom — this all happens in one thread since Medusa is wearing the same clothes. However, Rich Buckler has also shown Ben’s plotline where he travels all the way to Eastern Europe, battles a monster, goes with Alicia to her operation, gets bored, gets attacked by a monster again, and is almost drowned — all in the same amount of time it takes Reed to get dressed and go out.

The depth of this panel, as well as its very centered layout, is particularly reminiscent of early Kirby.

The depth of this panel, as well as its very centered layout, is particularly reminiscent of early Kirby.

What has resulted from this is that Gerry Conway had to go back and drop in at several points that Reed’s plot is happening over the course of several days. And in fact, he had to over-correct and say that Ben’s defeat happened two days after the very final scene of Reed encountering Doctor Doom, presumably in order to give Doom time enough to have flown from Europe, when actually we only saw Doom observing Ben from a computer monitor — this could have been in New York. This also naturally raises the question — do Ben and Alicia also not have enough time to get back to New York? If so, what was the point of Doom luring them both out all that way?

These problems may not all have been the artist’s fault however, since the plot itself could have been confused on these points as well. in fact it’s possible, judging by how much time we spend with Ben, the other members of the FF didn’t even appear in the plot synopsis, and were added as an after-thought. Conway at the moment is proving himself to be much better at providing back-stories and set-ups rather than actual plots, and as far as the art itself is concerned, for what it is, it’s very good, with genuinely moody dark compositions and interesting Euopean locales.

In any case, the result is an unfortunate diffusion of the tension, because it means that the rest of the FF are shown doing almost nothing at all of consequence in the time Ben is in Europe. Sue drives back to her friends’ ranch, and Johnny yells at one of Reed’s friends. That’s it. Which could have been easily overlooked, except that the cat-and-mouse game that Ben plays with the mysterious monster definitely lacks dramatic force, especially since Ben is not defeated at the end of the final fight.142done

But the final reveal of Doctor Doom, although very predictable, is dramatic and compelling. Of course Doom would be at a college reunion — he and Reed were students in the same class. Buckler’s take on the villain is very compelling, and we definitely want to know what happens next. Also, it’s nice seeing Medusa asserting a little agency in the story and providing an emotional buttress to Reed. Her relationship to the members of the FF could go in any number of ways, few of them romantic, and it is to be hoped that we see her being more proactive in subsequent issues.

Still and all, even though the road to this moment was rather rocky, we are hooked and dying to know what happens next.

EVALUATION: 5/10

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