Following the abrupt finish of the last issue, we are now presented with a thoughtfully paced and slow-burning issue which does a really splendid job of gradually ramping up the tension. And although the cover image in now way represents any scene of the interior issue, this is one of the strongest issues of the last bunch.
The secondary stories all gather the threads of the FF, mostly isolating Ben and Johnny. We are reminded of Ben’s angst and the seeming futility of his plight, but thrown a rare reversal in which he is comforted and encouraged by an adoring public. Johnny and Crystal, finally together in relative peace, share a flirtatious lover’s spat which is rather endearing. Reed meanwhile comes up with an invention to try to locate the abducted Alicia Masters, leaving Sue to rather typically gesticulate behind his back — a mere sounding board for his monologues. She’s drawn the short straw again in the character pools.
The primary plot is where Alicia has managed to fetch up. She has been abducted by a group of scientists in order to sculpt an image of a power being that they’ve created, but have never been able to see. Although the reason is contrived, it is one that touches on Alicia’s fundamental character trait, and therefore manages to work. Additionally, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Kirby making the image of an underground laboratory so compelling.
The scientists are handled very neutrally, with no clue in their image or manner as to how we should feel about them. They are not evil, they are not philanthropic — they are just white-coated scientists. Their aim is to create the ultimate human, more from scientific intrigue and the very challenge that presents than any warped morality, from what we gather. It is only when the words “forerunner of a supreme new race” are declared that alarm bells start ringing, and the notion that amorality really is a type of immorality is suggested.
The master stroke of this issue is all in how the break-out of ‘Him’ is handled. There is a sudden explosion, and shouts, and then we experience the scene from the point of view of Alicia — seeing just her in the center of the panels as the rest of the characters react around her. It gives us, the reader, all the information that she has and we realize how little that is, and how vulnerable she is in her position.
Characteristically, we don’t have a main reveal in this issue, only the promise of an imminent one at the start of the next issue. It is one of the delights of the Lee/Kirby era that they spend so much time setting up a story — far, far more than they do resolving it, which can often happen in just a few pages, if that. But lead-ins can take an entire issue, or several in the case of the Inhumans. Perhaps that is one of the secrets to the endurance of their creations: the attention to the foundation of their genesis above the payoff at the end.