171. Death is a Golden Gorilla

Fantastic Four 171 cover

Issue One Hundred and Seventy-One, June 1976

“Anyway, I’m sure the police can handle that overgrown ape, soon as they can get some heavier guns. At least — I hope they can!”

The Fantastic Four are training in the Baxter Building. Ben and Reed are testing out the exo-suit that Reed designed, and Sue is practising her ability to use multiple invisible shields at the same time. Ben exhibits frustration at the fact that he is no longer as strong as he used to be and that there are so many other super-strong individuals around. Meanwhile, Johnny is taking Frankie Raye out to the Central Park zoo, when an apparent spacecraft crash lands not too far from them. Inside of it is a golden gorilla that, when released, begins to grow and attack those around him. Johnny begins to confront the beast as the Human Torch, but he backs off when he remembers his vow to give up super-heroics. Now larger than most of the buildings around him, the giant ape spots the Baxter Building and heads for it. As he passes the 38th floor he sees Susan Richards in the window and predictably grabs her, taking her to the roof. The rest of the group engages the beast, attempting to free her, although she manages to free herself in time. Johnny arrives, realising that he can’t stay away if his family is in danger, and with a combination of his and Sue’s powers, they manage to calm the beast which also has the effect of shrinking him. Now at normal size, Reed studies the strange simian, who awakes and tells them his name is Gorr and that he has come to warn them about Galactus.

The publishers of DC Comics once noticed that any time there was a gorilla on the cover of a comic–or if the main character was crying on it–then the sales for that issue spiked. Pressure was then put on writers and artists to create stories that contained one of these two elements. In this case however, it’s more probable that the staff at Marvel were attempting to cash in on the anticipated release of Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong (1976), which was building itself up as THE motion picture event of the decade, the production of which could have turned into as big a tragedy as the story itself depicted.

In any case, this is an exceptionally uninspired issue. Even Roy Thomas’ knack of turning a clever tale from a stock premise fails him here. There seems little point to the conflict at all. It manages to bring a little bit of character from some of the participants of the battle, but not much. Johnny wrestles with his conscience in battling an immediate threat when there’s no reason that he should. We are not on his side and don’t understand his quibbling at leaping into the fray, particularly when it is so out of character for him to back off. Some melodrama is supposed to be had with Frankie Raye, but she comes off as fragile and reactionary in this episode. Ultimately she just wants Johnny to run and hide with her, which doesn’t make her an attractive foil.

Stay gold, monkeyboy. Stay gold.

Sue keeps getting backhanded by the creators of this series. First she is shown in this issue as expanding her powers and abilities, and even hitting back at Ben for his sexual prejudices. But next she is seen in a ridiculous pink apron, berating Reed for not spending time with her. Moments later she is snatched up by the now Kong-sized gorilla and made at once a symbolic plaything as well as a treasure to be recovered. Eventually she frees herself, not needing to be rescued, but ultimately in this issue it’s been one step forward, two steps back, and one step forward again–netting no gain.

And as for the issue’s final twist, it completely trivialises all the action in the issue. If the ape came to warn them and ask their help–what was all the rampaging about? In this issue he managed to do as much destruction to New York as Galactus’ first visit did.

Also, go back in this issue and see how many characters are sweating in it. What’s that about?


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