The monthly anthology format – meaning a different, complete story of fixed length every four weeks – has obvious weaknesses. It’s hard to maintain narrative continuity, difficult to develop characters, and – in the case of comics in the early 60s – 21 pages doesn’t afford a lot of space to create nuance or variation in dramatic rises and falls. The most common story-format these days is the six-issue long story, which is merely a convenient length to be collected and published in a hardback/trade paper format. This likewise doesn’t allow a writer much variance in storytelling. But limitations, even grossly restrictive ones, are not always bad and a good Artist can always use them to their advantage. After all we hardly think of Shakespeare as being confined and hog-tied by the five-act structure.
All of that is to say that FANTASTIC FOUR issue thirty-three is a clear example of a story that you simply wouldn’t get in a longer-story format. It’s pretty much a throw-away in nothing definite is decided for or developed in the characters and the ending very solidly reestablishes the status quo to the extent that Namor isn’t even aware that the FF were involved in his affairs at all. But it really is – if such a simile is permissible in describing an underwater tale – a breath of fresh air.
Namor is facing a rebellion in his undersea kingdom, led by one of his generals, Attuma – “the one from the murky depths”. Lady Dorma, frustrated at Namor’s inattentions, betrays him and, to atone for this, enlists the aid of the FF to help repair the damage. The FF agrees, banking on the tenuous assumption that the devil they know is better than the one they don’t. They journey to the underground kingdom and engage in a sort of black-ops sting operation against Attuma’s traps and underhanded surprises – completely unbeknown to Namor, even when he has reconquered his kingdom.
It’s a great tale, and Kirby handles it very well, devoting the same care and passion to the underwater world as he does to that of outer space. There is even a full-page sea collage which is very reminiscent of his space collages. It’s a story very properly judged to its length, and even though suitable allowances need to be made for the portrayed physics of the setting, there is a lot to enjoy in this issue.