164. The Crusader Syndrome

Fantastic Four 164

Issue One Hundred and Sixty-Four, Nov. 1975

So! It is done! You have paid, Calvin McClary — yet there are others like you, others who still walk free!  And they too shall feel the full, unfettered wrath of — the Crusader!

Reed is testing Sue’s powers which have become enhanced since her encounter with the Thunder Horn in issue 159. Johnny heads out on a date with a girl that he met, and they come across a superpowered man who calls himself The Crusader. He attacks an apparently innocent man and Johnny intervenes, however, he is blinded and this allows The Crusader to kill the man in front of a crowd. Still blinded, Johnny makes the 4 symbol in the sky, alerting the rest of his team, who catch him just as his energy gives out. Regrouped, the team sets out to look for The Crusader.


Can't even begin to say what is wrong with this outfit...

Can’t even begin to say what is wrong with this outfit…

The issue has a few noticeable firsts, and one first-in-a-long-while. The first-in-a-long-while is the cover, drawn by Jack Kirby. It’s a shame he didn’t return to draw the full issue — Rich Buckler has taken a short break — but it does give us instead some early George Perez work. Not too flashy, as yet, the characters have expression and the pages a nice flow. He draws a confident Thing and The Crusader positively oozes insanity.

This issue also introduces Frankie Raye, who is another of Johnny’s girlfriends that becomes an unexpectedly large participant in the Marvel Universe a few years down the line. There is little foreshadowed, but she gets more of a featuring in just one issue than just about any of his other non-superpowered girlfriends so far.

Introducing... Frankie Raye

Introducing… Frankie Raye

Another subtle first is Franklin’s first words: “Ha! Lookit rocks! Faw frum unca Ben’s head!” Inauspicious, but fairly accurately observed.

Two misjudged elements really bring us out of the story. The first is Johnny’s ridiculous outfit — undeniable his worst to date, which is not even worth describing, let alone critiquing. The other is the lapse in physics that allows Reed to stretch faster across New York than Johnny is able to fall down to it.

But the story itself is fairly good. It is nicely straightforward with a minimum of jumping back and forth between plot lines, and we certainly don’t suffer for that. The Crusader is such a charismatic figure, dynamic, driven, and inscrutable, that we are easily pulled along every page that he appears in. He has every appearance of a hero (in fact, up to this point, he was one — named Marvel Boy), but his relentless and vicious attack on an unarmed and seemingly harmless member of the public — killed in his bathrobe, no less — is an unexpected savagery that has rarely been seen in these pages. The Crusader is completely an unknown quantity, with his outward appearances thwarting an as-yet opaque motive. We’re definitely left wanting more at the end of this issue.


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