DIVIDE AND CONQUER
The first story of the three in this issue is just how a great annual should be written. Lots of guest stars, a good amount of (character driven) action, and an original threat. Also, the group dynamic of the Fantastic Four shifts slightly with the revelation that Sue is pregnant with who will turn out to be Franklin Richards. It’s not a huge shift, but even a few degrees trajectory alteration is significant over time. It’s a change that affects decisions in this issue, and we will see its effects in the normal series as well.
The antagonist of this first story has a plan so large and over-arching that it is stumbled upon not one but three superhero properties of the Marvel Universe. After a particularly powerful character introduction of Psycho-Man, we find that he has delivered the mysterious ‘Component Five’ to the apparently only blind girl in New York City, Alicia Masters. There’s absolutely no reason given for why he has done this, but it allows Ben to have a tussle with Psycho-Man’s minions and fall powerless beneath the strength of his own fear. Seeing him coiled on the floor in a fetal position is a profoundly disturbing sight — perhaps the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen him, even for all of his moping around.Absconding with the (mis-delivered?) package, the Psycho-Man and his three henchmen return to their Caribbean island hideout, which just happens to have been purchased by The Black Panther. Also, the Inhumans are nearby. Possibly not on the same island, but close enough for Gorgon to find them when he returns to see them gone.
The typical scuffle and misunderstanding takes place between these two and then they get down to the business of sorting out the Psycho-Man. This is actually done quite well. All the heroes are acting at full strength and keep getting thwarted by an enemy that they do not fully understand. The Psycho-Man’s emotional remote control continues to overwhelm them. More and more heroes join the fray until it’s the entire Inhuman royal family, the Black Panther, and Ben and Johnny (Reed has stayed behind with Sue due to her condition). Eventually one hero — the Black Panther — is able to penetrate Psycho-Man’s defenses and brings him down. It all seems to happen too fast, however. We get a very hurried (and very inventive) origin story from Psycho-Man before he vanishes.
IS THIS A PLOT?
This three page feature is both written and illustrated by Jack Kirby, but the influence of Harvey Kurtzman is palpable. There is no plot to speak of (hence the title), it just showcases a day in the life in the Marvel studio (as it was in 1967), more specifically, the offices of Stan and Jack. It is reported that Stan and Jack actually would act out scenes that they were working on, to the extent of climbing on the furniture and using props. Also, the conversational style of developing stories and characters is also very like how they worked. So, in the midst of the surreal lunacy of Kirby’s fantasy (homage to the early EC Mad Magazine, even?) there is a lot of truth. It’s interesting to see Kirby tackle a very different style to his usual superhero art. For its oddity, it’s well worth finding out and reading.
THE PEERLESS POWER OF THE SILVER SURFER
This last feature is a wonderful little moral tale featuring the Silver Surfer and an incidental character from last year’s annual, Quasimodo. After a rather silly scene in which the Surfer is shot at by hunters (apparently using explosive shells to fell ducks), the Surfer sails through New York, reflecting on the weakness of human character and ability.Apparently able to tune into the emotions of those around him, he becomes intrigued by a profound anguish and self-pity — that of the still-imprisoned computer intelligence Quasimodo. This computer was neglected by the Mad Thinker and unseen by the Fantastic Four and left running, feeling, profoundly miserable. Wanting to move and experience life, but imprisoned in a steel case. Using his power cosmic, the Surfer gives him a very powerful body, yet Quasimodo is disgusted by his face. With this shock, new negative emotions take over, as we see it, although it could also be said that he reverts back to his original programming — that of destruction.
A very brief rampage ensues, finally dealt with very capably by the Silver Surfer. But just as Quasimodo is about to be destroyed by the Surfer, he utters a very plaintive and human cry that he was only doing what was in his nature — what he was programmed and created to do. Why must he be punished?
But he is. He was the machine that was only created to feel, just as much as his namesake, and it lead to his destruction. The Surfer meanwhile, taking his first altruistic action since siding with the earth against Galactus — and being exposed only to more anguish — flies away into the clear blue sky.