148. War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor

Issue One Hundred and Forty-Eight, July 1974

Issue One Hundred and Forty-Eight, July 1974

“It’s a pity my sympathy is overwhelmed by my hatred, Richards… for it might have saved your pathetic life!

The Fantastic Four are returning home from Namor’s realm and Reed collapses at the controls of the Fantasticar. Ben lands it and they all head inside where they are attacked by the Sandman who then escapes into the building’s air vents. The members disperse and Johnny is ambushed by the Trapster who captures him. The Wingless Wizard is then able to incapacitate Reed and Medusa with his gravity discs, leaving Ben to confront Sandman. Partway through their battle, Thundra turns up and helps Ben defend himself. Meanwhile, Johnny breaks free of Trapster and frees Reed and Medusa. All of them are then able to defeat the Frightful Four. This done, they look out the window to find that Namor is riding by on a sea monster, shouting that he is declaring war on the surface world, an aghast Sue Richards standing behind him.

148uhnThere is an awful flaw right at the center of this issue — an annoyance that builds to a frustration and then almost an insult as the story progresses. And that is that the moment after the cliff-hanger of the previous issue is never shown. The story picks up some hours after that instant and we are promised that more will be revealed of that event but all we are then shown is a one-page summary of the previous issue.

Reed has been told that she loves Namor and not him — what was his reaction? Did he say anything to Sue? What was Ben and Johnny’s reaction? They spent a good amount of time trying to track her down so that they could talk to her — did they? If so, what did they say? Did anyone challenge Namor to explain himself? Did Sue offer an explanation? Was there a fight? How in the world did we get from a wife telling a husband the most devastating thing she could about their relationship to him driving home some hours later?

I’ll put you out of your suspense — we don’t find out here, and we never find out afterwards. For some reason the creators of this issue think that a pointless and generally motivationless fight with the Frightful Four is of more interest, and it simply isn’t. And as Namor arrives with Sue on the last page of this issue, and he and the FF are in the stand-off which is almost exactly that of the previous issue, Fantastic Four 148 has made a very strong case for being the most pointless comic in the entire series. The only development is that Namor is now again invading New York, and that might have been the reason for all of this, but there had to have been a better way to get there.

There is absolutely no originality in how the Frightful Four act, or in how the FF deal with them. Almost every scene is a direct crib from previous issues. The FF are almost completely unconcerned with invaders in their headquarters. Johnny’s reaction on Sandman’s escape is to go and look out of a window for a fair time, wool gathering, thinking about recent events with his hands clasped behind his back. No wonder he is captured so easily. But then later he simply frees himself. The creators have made nearly every effort to diffuse any possible tension.

148thudThe only unexpected and original turn in this issue is Thundra’s arrival which, although inadequately explained, adds a fresh dynamic, and a rare one in comics, even by today’s standards. She is shown to be very possessive of Ben Grimm — he is a weaker creature that must be protected from those that challenge him. Which is as sweet as it is hilarious, being perhaps the least physically vulnerable member of the FF, and yet being the most emotionally unstable. We just haven’t seen anyone care for Ben in the same way that Thundra has — not Alicia nor even Reed. And the simple truth is that he very often needs to be protected (usually from himself) and Thundra, despite her claims that she will destroy him, can provide that both physically and, as seen in this issue, as a kind of emotional buttress. By the end of the issue she is already being described as a “friend” of the group and one can only hope that she will be a constant friend.


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