168. Where Have All The Powers Gone?

Fantastic Four 168 cover

Issue One Hundred and Sixty-Eight, March 1976

“It’s that Luke Cage guy — Power Man!”

Johnny flies into the Baxter Building and demands a leave of absence, he is thinking about quitting the Fantastic Four. Reed convinces him to stay by reminding him that they are down a member, now that Ben has reverted back to human form again. Out on the streets, Ben is with Alicia but finding adjustments hard. He is not recognized wherever he goes, and it is hard even to get back into the Baxter Building. Once he does, he finds that the team is auditioning a new member — Luke Cage, Power Man. Cage is given Ben’s place on the team on the spot, just as a television interview that Ben conducted is being broadcast. The interview is a character assassination, intended to show him in the worst light possible. Becoming aware that someone is breaking into a bank, the FF and Power Man take off to stop him in the Fantasticar, along with an angry and powerless Ben Grimm. This turns out to be The Wrecker, who Grimm attempts to subdue. He needs to rescue by the rest of the team, ignominiously being caught by Power Man himself when The Wrecker throws him off a building. Power Man manages to defeat The Wrecker and a disconsolate and powerless Ben Grimm walks off into the distance.

There is a potential depth to the story in this issue, which is never really fully explored. Readers are left to pretty much fill in the blanks themselves for any sort of character dimension. What is actually shown on the page lacks any real depth. The fact that Ben Grimm finds that he is unhappy in his human form — which he has been lamenting the loss of for pretty much the last 167 issues — is plausible. But coming so quickly, not just in mere panels of the comic, but in probably just a day or so of story-time, it makes Grimm seem less pathetic and more petulant and whiny. His feelings are like those of a three-year-old; powerful but┬ácapricious. We just needed more time with him to feel all that he was feeling, we needed a better situation than not being asked for an autograph to set off his melancholy. More than that, it would have been nice to open with him actually enjoying being a human again, in some respect, to give some contrast to the negative emotion about to come.Fantastic Four 168 Power Man

And if Ben is fickle the rest of the Fantastic Four are just as off-hand with him. Even after the incident where he walks into the training room and almost gets killed — which is a good, realistic moment — they are unusually insensitive to his feelings about replacing him. They basically rub it into his face, as if Ben was less a family member, less a team member, but rather a girl they once dated who they want to score points against by showing that they’ve found someone else. Which isn’t to say that this isn’t how they might feel in that situation. Perhaps the rest of the FF would feel abandoned by Grimm regaining his humanity and the strongest member of the FF not able to stand with them any more again Dr Doom and any other threat… but would they all react in the same way? Would Sue react like Reed, or Reed like Johnny?Fantastic Four 168 Power Man

This was the problem for superhero comics for so long, and it’s still something that’s in the back of people’s minds and which prevents many one-time readers from returning: emotional intensity is sold up the river in favor of showing someone hitting something so hard that it explodes. If this issue was just focussed on Grimm’s emotions and his team members’ reactions towards him, no one would have felt short-changed.

Which brings us to Power Man, who is actually the only character in the issue with anything approaching nuance. His role seems well thought through — he is aware of the awkwardness of his situation, but he is also determined to play the role given to him.


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