164. The Crusader Syndrome

Fantastic Four 164

Issue One Hundred and Sixty-Four, Nov. 1975

So! It is done! You have paid, Calvin McClary — yet there are others like you, others who still walk free!  And they too shall feel the full, unfettered wrath of — the Crusader!

SUMMARY
Reed is testing Sue’s powers which have become enhanced since her encounter with the Thunder Horn in issue 159. Johnny heads out on a date with a girl that he met, and they come across a superpowered man who calls himself The Crusader. He attacks an apparently innocent man and Johnny intervenes, however, he is blinded and this allows The Crusader to kill the man in front of a crowd. Still blinded, Johnny makes the 4 symbol in the sky, alerting the rest of his team, who catch him just as his energy gives out. Regrouped, the team sets out to look for The Crusader.

COMMENTARY

Can't even begin to say what is wrong with this outfit...

Can’t even begin to say what is wrong with this outfit…

The issue has a few noticeable firsts, and one first-in-a-long-while. The first-in-a-long-while is the cover, drawn by Jack Kirby. It’s a shame he didn’t return to draw the full issue — Rich Buckler has taken a short break — but it does give us instead some early George Perez work. Not too flashy, as yet, the characters have expression and the pages a nice flow. He draws a confident Thing and The Crusader positively oozes insanity.

This issue also introduces Frankie Raye, who is another of Johnny’s girlfriends that becomes an unexpectedly large participant in the Marvel Universe a few years down the line. There is little foreshadowed, but she gets more of a featuring in just one issue than just about any of his other non-superpowered girlfriends so far.

Introducing... Frankie Raye

Introducing… Frankie Raye

Another subtle first is Franklin’s first words: “Ha! Lookit rocks! Faw frum unca Ben’s head!” Inauspicious, but fairly accurately observed.

Two misjudged elements really bring us out of the story. The first is Johnny’s ridiculous outfit — undeniable his worst to date, which is not even worth describing, let alone critiquing. The other is the lapse in physics that allows Reed to stretch faster across New York than Johnny is able to fall down to it.

But the story itself is fairly good. It is nicely straightforward with a minimum of jumping back and forth between plot lines, and we certainly don’t suffer for that. The Crusader is such a charismatic figure, dynamic, driven, and inscrutable, that we are easily pulled along every page that he appears in. He has every appearance of a hero (in fact, up to this point, he was one — named Marvel Boy), but his relentless and vicious attack on an unarmed and seemingly harmless member of the public — killed in his bathrobe, no less — is an unexpected savagery that has rarely been seen in these pages. The Crusader is completely an unknown quantity, with his outward appearances thwarting an as-yet opaque motive. We’re definitely left wanting more at the end of this issue.

EVALUATION: 7/10

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163. Finale

Fantastic Four 163

Issue One Hundred and Sixty-Three, Oct. 1975

“There is… no point to further battle.”

SUMMARY
Ben tries to get Reed’s disc passed Gaard and through the hole in the nexus, but he is blocked at every attempt.  Meanwhile, Johnny and the Reed from the Second Earth track down and defeat Akron. That leaves just Ben in the nexus to do his part. Somehow the two Reeds are able to beam an illusion of The Thing into the nexus area and this confuses Gaard enough for him to throw his cosmic scepter at it, thus disarming himself, and allowing Ben to place Reed’s disc in the nexus void, collapsing it. Ben leaves Gaard, who is revealed to be the Second Earth Johnny Storm.

 

COMMENTARY
Unfortunately, what was a clever and exciting storyline finished up in a confused and uninteresting ending. Even the characters themselves don’t care enough to have the resolution explained to them.163ffip

Where to start? First of all, there’s Gaard, who is, literally, a cosmic ice hockey goal keeper. No doubt it is a conscious continuation of the thought process that resulted in the Silver Surfer, but whereas the Surfer had an elegant simplicity and weirdness that translated into a spooky, otherworldly vibe. However, the contrivances necessary to give Gaard — not only a hockey stick (his “cosmic scepter”), but also a mask, shin guards, padded gloves, and (god help us) golden skates —  just leave him looking ridiculous. The revelation at the end that Gaard turns out to be the presumed dead Second Earth Johnny Storm is bewilderingly pointless. It adds nothing. It’s a character we have never seen before, who has a goal that is fairly meaningless.

Reed Richards: Scientific genius, shameless hypocrite.

Reed Richards: Scientific genius, shameless hypocrite.

This issue is also thematically psychotic. At one point Reed berates the man who he himself sold out to for selling out. Second Earth Reed is just as erratic in his harangue about peace and violence when pummeling Arkon into paste. At one moment he laments the use of diplomacy and peace initiatives if they don’t have force to back them up (thereby completely contradicting an important plot point in the last issue, where Johnny and his army get talked down peacefully), but then turns the blame on himself for staying in his castle and making war robots. It’s such a weird barrage of contradictory statements, possibly meant as a commentary against the Viet Nam War, maybe the Cold War, perhaps even both. In terms of this particular story, there is potential for something meaningful to be discussed in what Second Earth Reed points out is a targeted assassination of a military leader to end the attacks, but that is left by the wayside in a confusion of anti-military polemic.

And the climax of the issue should not be the climax. There is no reason at all that sneaking a disc past a cosmic goallie in a hyperspace dimension (which apparently has air to breath and talk into) should solve all the conflicts of the past issues. There’s no reason to believe that collapsing some sort of hole in that dimension would prevent people traveling from the other portals, especially when Ben has no difficulty in getting back from that one, and Johnny from the next one after Ben has defeated Gaard.

A disappointing ending to a really great four-part story.

EVALUATION: 2/10

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162. The Shape of Things to Come

Fantastic Four 162

Issue One Hundred and Sixty-Two Sept. 1975

“Get out of my way, all of you — or I won’t be responsible for what happens to — ARRRGH!

SUMMARY
The Reed Richards from Second Earth has broken his bonds, but he is soon recaptured by Arkon’s men. He explains his plan for destroying three entire planets by enticing each to retaliate against assumed attacks by the other. Meanwhile, in the real world, Reed and Sue are fighting off some attackers from another time, leading Reed to the conclusion that Mr DeVoor is using Doom’s time platform technology that he acquired when he bought out the Fantastic Four. Just then the Second Earth Reed appears to him and discloses that DeVoor is behind all of the “IT” companies that have appeared on the other earths, and is therefore instrumental in starting the wars. Reed decides to confront DeVoor. At this time, the Second Earth Reed manages to escape for good and he finds that Ben is locked up nearby. He frees him and the two encounter Johnny who is about to lead the 5th Dimensioners in an attack. The two Things manage to talk him down and Johnny orders his army back. Reed then contacts the three of them in a portal and sends them inter-dimensional skates that can take them from world to world, as well as a certain nexus that lies at the center of them. 2nd Earth Reed and Johnny go to confront Arkon, The Thing goes to the nexus, where he encounters Gaard, a being bearing a strong resemblance to an ice hockey goal keeper.

COMMENTARY
There’s a lot to appreciate in this issue, even though the cliffhanger is less than compelling. The plot is not actually as complex as the narration leads one to believe, it’s rather simple, if also rather dense and layered. Akron’s plan is a pretty good one, or if not good then at least interesting. Three planets have each been manipulated into springing a surprise attack on the other. Even though he dresses in a loin cloth and spends a good deal of time shouting, he seems quite clever. His motives for this wholesale destruction isn’t apparent, but it seems as though it could actually work.

Less believable is Johnny being tricked into leading an army to destroy a planet. Rash and hasty he might be, but he has never shown himself to be anything like a warrior or general. Plus, there’s the logical leap of anyone with authority putting such a person in charge of an army or, indeed, that army even following his orders — especially an order to retreat. That’s a situation that could have actually benefited from a little complexity. As it is, it all gets tied off a little too quickly. 162escape

A disappointment in this issue is the revelation that Reed really didn’t have any subterfuge planned in his dealings with Mr DeVoor. Everything about the situation he is in has come as a surprise to him. He also apparently had no qualms with turning over the keys to Doom’s time platform — a technology of immense power that he didn’t develop and therefore does not rightfully own. Obviously he has done no background research on DeVoor, he seems just happy to take the money with almost no questions asked.

Two different Things are fun to see, however. It’s nice to see Ben getting on with this alternate Reed, who he has no reason to resent, and who has no feelings of guilt towards him. It’s a refreshing dynamic and we get a glimpse of what their relationship would have been otherwise — one of almost instant and total trust. And visually, it’s a treat, especially when four mighty fists are raised at the same time.

As for the space alien dressed up in ice hockey gear, I’ll leave that until the next review to lay into that one. Leaving that to one side, this is a fairly densely packed issue with little dead space, even if the exposition at the front is fairly heavy-handed, even by the ’70s standard. Lots of mystery, weirdness, originality, and a dash of action — just what the Fantastic Four should be.

EVALUATION: 7/10

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161. All the World Wars At Once

Fantastic Four 161 cover

Issue One Hundred and Sixty-One, Aug 1975

“Tell me again about how I did the right thing. And meI’ll keep on tryin’ to believe it.”

SUMMARY
Reed is running dramatic tests on his body in his lab and comes to the conclusion that he is literally becoming over-stretched, a fact he hides from Sue when she appears. The Human Torch, upset at recent events, decides to visit Valeria, the girl he knows in the 5th Dimension. Once there he is attacked, and only saved in the nick of time by Valeria’s arrival with her father, Phineas. They reveal that mechanical beings called the Andrones have invaded from another parallel Earth. This is the Second Earth, that Ben is on, which he now finds is being attacked by dinosaurs and vikings that have appeared in central Manhattan. The president of that world declares on television that it is our earth that is causing these disturbances and claims that they will fight back. Just then the Ben Grimm from that world release a nerve toxin that knocks out The Thing in order to save him from getting attacked by the army. Meanwhile Sue calls Reed into a monitoring room to show him an image from the 5th Dimension: Johnny is standing at the head of an army, apparently poised to attack us.

COMMENTARY
There are a few odd plotting decisions in this issue, but oddly they all seem to work — just. The characters all do something that seems a bit of a logical reach, but it all seems to work because it all starts to tie into the same story, and there’s hope for some of the loose strands of the previous issue to be likewise woven into the rest of the story, creating a whole piece.161laser

In the first instance, we have Johnny, suddenly deciding that he’s depressed over Crystal (still) and eventually storming into the 5th Dimension to see the attractive blue-skinned girl from the previous issue. This seems kind of gratuitous, especially considering that the story she appeared in was pretty awful. However, tying an invasion by the machines that the Second Earth Reed created, and a planned invasion of our earth by them, really makes us wondering not just what is going on, but how it will all resolve. We’ve seen worlds and dimensions at war before in this issue, but to see two others so closely knit with ours makes the concept feel fresh and original. Also, there is still the matter of the mysterious “I.T.” companies. Reed sold the Fantastic Four to one of them in the last issue, the Reed of Second Earth seemed to be likewise owned, or running, another, and in the 5th Dimension it is revealed that there is a weapons manufacturer called “Inter-Politan Thermo-Dynamics”. It’s such a small but effective hook that none of the characters have drawn attention to, but adds such a delightful layer of intrigue to everything that’s going on. Not only are we wondering what it all means, but we’re wondering why it’s even important.161jumpin

Added to this is an increased sense of mortality for Reed as he realizes that his powers may be killing him. But he quickly gets too swept up in events to investigate the matter fully. His teammates need him, it doesn’t matter if he may be dying or not.

EVALUATION: 7/10

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160. In One World and Out Another

Fantastic Four 160

Issue One Hundred and Sixty, July 1975

“If it is power alone that will induce you to surrender — why, then, power shall be served!”

SUMMARY
A barbarian on a dragon, who calls himself Arkon, is hurling thunderbolts at The Thing, chasing him through central New York city. Alicia Masters comes to him just as he lies in smoldering wreckage, taking a piece of his clothing before Arkon arrives and they both vanish in a flash of light. Alicia hurries to the Baxter Building to tell the rest of the Fantastic Four, only to find that Ben is still with them. Intrigued by what Alicia tells him, Ben makes contact with Crystal and borrows Lockjaw in order to investigate what happened to the second Thing. Meanwhile, Reed calls the rest of the Fantastic Four into a meeting with a man called Mr De Voor. He reveals to his teammates that he is selling his 51% share of The Fantastic Four Inc. this man. During this time, Ben is using Lockjaw to chase the other Thing, arriving in a different dimension, but one that he has visited before. Appearing at a castle, Ben enters and saves another Ben Grimm and a Sue Storm from robotic monsters. They find that that dimension’s Reed — who is The Thing in their world — has been chased from his castle, which now bears a sign reading Inter-Related Technocracies. In our dimension, Reed signs over his interest to Mr De Voor, the papers of which bear another “IT” in the same typeface, this time of Interlocking Technologies.

COMMENTARY
Reed Richard as The ThingThe Fantastic Four are back to their first-act best in this issue, and it’s a nice surprise to see John Buscema back for an issue. The story starts off with a good hook: a terrified Thing, which is a Thing we haven’t often seen before, and definitely not without an ounce of braggadocio to throw against an absurdly preening foe. It is an unexpected but natural revelation to find that this Thing is not Ben Grimm. And as far as his storyline is concerned, it is a good one. It is slightly unbelievable that Reed would not want to solve the mystery of Ben’s doppleganger as eagerly as Ben would, but the way that Ben solves it is intelligent and true to his character, drawing on resources that he has used before. He ends up in the same place he did when he last journeyed with Lockjaw, back in issue 118, in the backup story “What Mad World”. It was a premise that was better than the short space it was given and here it kicks off the Two Things saga very nicely. There is a small amount of action and exposition and then a nice mystery that dovetails with the end of the B-plot of the issue.

Fantastic Four 160 Mr De VoorThe B-plot is a bit ropey. In it we are told that, at some unspecified point in the near past, the Fantastic Four became incorporated and shares of it sold on the market, with Reed maintaining a 51% majority, which he suddenly decides to sell to a Mr De Voor claiming that, even with the sale of his patents, the FF are no longer “in the black”. This seems a fairly thin excuse, financially speaking. Reed’s standoffish behavior towards his teammates about his reasons and justifications are sadly in keeping with his character, although it would be hoped that he would have learned to trust them more with his plans, even if this one turns out to be a lure or a ruse. It doesn’t make sense that he keeps a controlling interest — why would they not all own equal shares that amounted to a majority?

In any case, this subplot is redeemed by the revelation that Interlocking Technologies could be linked somehow into Inter-Related Technocracies, and that Ben and the rest of the FF are pursuing a larger mystery from two different ends.

EVALUATION: 7/10

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159. Havoc in the Hidden Land

Fantastic Four 159 Cover

Issue One Hundred and Fifty-Nine, June 1975

“Get her! Slay her! The Invisible Girl must die!”

SUMMARY
The Fantastic Four (with Quicksilver, but not Sue) arrive in the Hidden Land and are captured by Xemu and his men. Imprisoning all but Medusa, Xemu explains his plan to her of getting Black Bolt to speak into the Thunder Horn device. Unable yet to do so, Xemu uses a sound gun on the machine and destroys a Chinese military installation, provoking them to attack the Hidden Land. Triton breaks the FF out of jail. Meanwhile, Xemu is taken off guard when jets with warheads arrive from China and he leaves our dimension. The Inhumans free themselves and Sue Richards appears to help them all out. The FF arrive to defeat Xemu’s remaining troops and Sue Reveals that she made the Great Refuge,  invisible so that the fighter jets couldn’t find anything to attack. Medusa decides to quit the team, and Johnny changes back into his classic blue uniform.

COMMENTARY
The less said about the plot of this issue, the better. Xemu has proven to be one of the absolute stupidest adversaries the FF have ever faced, unable to think even one step forward of his great plan, the aim of which is never eventually revealed. Exactly why does he want Black Bolt to speak into the device? What would happen if he does? Why does he need to blow up anything larger than a mountain, or a military installation, which he can quite ably do any time he wants. And then, after blowing up the military base in this issue and deliberately provoking armed retaliation, why wasn’t he ready to defend himself against it? Reed and the others meet an old man in the prison they are thrown into who tells them how to thwart and destroy the machine, but it isn’t they who do that, it’s Sue who wasn’t privy to any of that information. And why did Sue not act earlier? Why didn’t she free the FF? Why didn’t she prevent Xemu from using his device to blow up the base?

A dramatic return by Susan Richards, drawn by Rich Buckler

A dramatic return by Susan Richards, drawn by Rich Buckler

There are a few upshots of this issue. One, Medusa decides to go back to live with the Inhumans, ending her tenure as an official member twenty-seven issues ago. Looking back, she didn’t add a whole lot to the team dynamic, and wasn’t allowed to breathe as a character in her own right. The Fantastic Four, as a series, is more plot than character driven, and she always took a back seat to the boys. Her leaving also coincides with another Johnny Storm costume change, this time back to blue. And the last panel promises a reversion back to the old standard dynamic that the title was launched with, and really, why not? Sue has unique potential as a character — a superhero who is a sister, a friend, a wife, and a mother to the other members of the team. It’s a literary crime that she continually gets written out of this title.

EVALUATION: 2/10

159olddays

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158. Invasion From the 5th Dimension

Fantastic Four 158 Cover

Issue One Hundred and Fifty-Eight, May 1975

“He died, never knowing the name of his killer: the name of Xemu — Master of the Fifth Dimension!

SUMMARY
The members of the Fantastic Four are milling around the city, enjoying a quiet evening. Eventually coming back to the Baxter Building, Johnny runs into Quicksilver. They fight as the rest of the FF arrive, waylaying Quicksilver, who says that he has come to bring Medusa back to the Inhuman’s Great Refuge. Quicksilver tells them that it has been invaded by Xemu and his army from the 5th Dimension, and everyone in it are his prisoners. He has a weapon that amplifies a normal voice into a force large enough to destroy a mountain, and he intends to make Black Bolt use it with his already powerful voice. Black Bolt refuses and Xemu releases Quicksilver to bring his wife to him in order that he might use her as leverage to force him to speak into the device. The FF decide that they are going to intervene in the situation.

COMMENTARY
158imperativeRoy Thomas is still in the writer’s seat for this issue, which is a comforting prospect, although this is a very pedestrian tale, even by the standards of the ’70s. Apart from heightened profile of the female members (in that they are actually shown, although don’t get half as much page time as their male counterparts), the story, so far, lacks the typical “Thomasian” thematic complexity and plot density. There is a vague thematic intent of using what the heroes love against them — Quicksilver is forced to act against his wishes when his wife is threatened, and Xemu intends to coerce Black Bolt with the exact same method, but that only goes to make the women objects of passivity.

There is a fight between heroes caught in the middle of a misunderstanding, and a flashback sequence that lacks immediacy and, sadly, originality. There is an allusion made to the Torch having fought Xemu before, but beyond that we are told very little about him, except that he wants to rule all dimensions… by destroying this one? That’s certainly what his “Thunder Horn” would do if Black Bolt were to use it.

Why are not the invaders from the 5th dimension more complex than the inhabitants of this one (which is presumably the 4th)? And what, apart from light blue skin, makes them different from us? Perhaps those answers will be forthcoming, but it seems a missed opportunity here to not add some unique trait to a character (or character group) that just goes around shouting with guns. It hardly seems an enemy worthy of the Fantastic Four’s attention.158army

And even Rich Buckler seems to have lost his inventive spark. Apart from just a couple scattered inspired moments (Quicksilver running up the side of the Baxter Building, the invaders from the 5th Dimension appearing as though they were actually coming through page twelve), there is sadly little of visual interest.

EVALUATION: 4/10

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157. Endgame

Fantastic Four 157

Issue One Hundred and Fifty-Seven, April 1975

Come, then! Let cries of battle fill this castle, nay this land — and hell yawns widely for the first fool who gasps for quarter!

SUMMARY
Doctor Doom reveals the being that he created to store and channel the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic, a second version of the Doomsman, a synthetic human whom he controls. The Silver Surfer talks to Shala-Bal, whose memory seems to be returning the more she is around him. To further recover her memories, she kisses the Surfer. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four are searching Doom’s castle becoming trapped in a steel room, it is only Reed who can allow them to escape by slipping through a hole in the walls. Once released, they encounter the Doomsman, who they are unable to gain the upper hand on. At that time, the Surfer is talking to Shala-Bal, who realizes that she is not the true Shala-Bal, but only a Latverian peasant named Helena who Doom has brainwashed. Spurred into action, the Surfer joins the battle against Doomsan and they are able to defeat him, in the process finding Doctor Doom himself. They begin to fight, but “Helena” intervenes, saying that the destruction they are causing is in danger of obliterating the art and culture of Latverian society. Both sides decide that there is not anything to be gained in continuing the battle and mutually withdraw. The scene then shifts to Hell where Mephisto gloats on the situation, revealing that the woman believed to be Shala-Bal was indeed the real Shala-Bal, Helena was only another false layer. He had orchestrated the entire situation, primarily by manipulating Doom’s mind, only to torment the Silver Surfer.

COMMENTARY
“Endgame” is a deceptively straightforward issue, and it contains a respectable twist at the end. Admirable for the series, it manages to maintain its thematic cohesion over three issues — historically three issue arcs have been far more miss than hit so far. The resolution deals entirely with the core question of the story which is who is in control of themselves, and why? That is the struggle that the Silver Surfer has been wrestling with, and at times he has allowed Doom to control him, at times he has rebelled, and at times he has put the Fantastic Four under his control. Doom, it would seem, has always been in control of the situation, always standing at least one step ahead of any of his opponents, until the very end.Fantastic Four 157 But really, it is revealed, Mephisto (making his first appearance in the title) was playing both (or all) sides against each other in a game against the Silver Surfer, that even the Surfer was not aware that he was playing. Doom was Mephisto’s unwitting servant, meaning that the man who knew he was in control of everything was really in control of nothing. That ending would seem bizarre and contrived, except that it is perfectly apt in the theme of the story. And it is the Fantastic Four who have always been on the back foot, even to the point of resolution, where it is Shala-Bal who reasons with everyone in the conflict, drawing attention to the fact that the fight is now pointless — the wheel has turned too many times, and the reversals have meant that no side has anything left to gain. If only more stories could have ended this way. However, a massive plot hole has been replaced by a smaller but significant one. The real question is how in the world would Doom ever have recognized what the Silver Surfers former lover from a distant planet even looked like in order to entice him into a trap? That is answered by the fact that it is Mephisto who transported her there and controlled Doom’s actions afterwards. But why does no one else wonder at that? Why does Reed or the Surfer himself not wonder at the knowledge that Doom couldn’t possibly have? It seems a gross oversight for any of these characters to have been so close-sighted.Fantastic Four 157 Rich Buckler continues to use panel shape and size to good effect. When the Doomsman shows up, the panels get physically larger to contain him, and Mephisto’s appearance is foreshadowed wonderfully through the shape of the panel borders in the pages immediately preceding that reveal.

EVALUATION: 7/10

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156. Middle Game

Fantastic Four 156

Issue One Hundred and Fifty-Six, March 1975

This is power, you whimpering oaf! The image of a boot stamping endlessly upon the upturned face of a cringing humanity –– or an armored hand across a quivering lip! This is power!

SUMMARY
Doctor Doom watches on his viewscreen as the Silver Surfer battles the Fantastic Four, who are completely helpless before his power cosmic. Morally unable to kill them, the Surfer nonetheless delivers them to Doom in a hypnotic trance. After sparring with each other and displaying their powers, Doom puts the FF into specially designed cages and directs the weary Surfer to a chair and allows Shalla-Bal to be near him. Retiring to his viewing chamber again, he is too focused on the Silver Surfer to notice that the FF have escaped from their prison. Arriving with some of his specially designed androids, he attempts to defeat them himself, but once the FF turn the tables on him, Doom turns out to be a robot himself. The real Victor Von Doom never left the viewing chamber, where he was making sure that the Surfer stayed in his chair, that was specially designed to analyse and duplicate the Power Cosmic in order to imbue it onto someone else.

COMMENTARY
The excitement and tension from the last issue are carried over perfectly in this one. The pace is still slow, but it works very hard. For the first two thirds of the book, the only active characters in it are the Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom — the Fantastic Four are just chattel. Doom refers to them as gaming pieces, and that is exactly how they are treated, outclassed by an ineffably powerful cosmic being and a ruthless evil genius.Fantastic Four 156

This allows for the most original and brilliant element of the issue to play comfortably in the fore. This is a discussion and show of power between Doom and the Surfer, in which both debate the true nature of power, whether it is to destroy, or to create. At one point Doom unwittingly quotes George Orwell, saying that power is only power if it is to be used, where the Surfer argues that power is pointless if only used for power’s sake, and a powerful man is only greater than the power he wields if he can restrain it from ruling his conscience. It is a dramatic debate, perhaps without much philosophical depth, but with emotional meaning and a satisfying lack of resolution. It is not an entrenched debate, however. For the Surfer, refusing to bend to Doom’s bullying, shows that he can easily use his power destructively. And although it is in Doom’s nature to destroy, he takes pains to make the point to the surfer that he also can use his power to recreate something that the Surfer himself had destroyed.

This shows the complexity of both characters, and Doom is finally revealed to have the upper hand when he fakes out the FF and manipulates the Surfer into allowing him to study his Cosmic Power. So often the Doombots are used just as a ploy to allow Doom himself to escape from a story, but here one is used logically and to plot effect. Of course Doom wouldn’t busy himself in grappling with the FF while he was on the cusp of understanding a power such as that which the Silver Surfer wields.

And once the FF do become active again, we see them working seamless as a team. They do not bicker, and while Reed lays unconscious, Ben takes a turn as the brains of the group, freeing Johnny, who then becomes the muscle. It’s an wonderful moment of inversion, and only makes the stakes that much higher since an FF that is operating at the top of their game has been hopelessly outmatched by even just one of the two titanic forces that they are caught between.Fantastic Four 156

And special mention must be drawn again to Rich Buckler who is using his storytelling abilities in a very exciting way. There is more abstraction in his pages. He uses harmonized images and jarring sequences very effectively. When the Surfer starts to lose the mental battle against Doom, he starts to obscure himself, visually collapsing inwards. He champions his own mental restrain, but cannot put any effective defense up against Doom’s madness who, meanwhile, is expansive and flamboyant. The themes of the story are perfectly realized visually by an artist who we have just seen ascend to a higher level of visual narrative.

EVALUATION: 9/10

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155. Battle Royale

Fantastic Four 155 cover

Issue One Hundred and Fifty-Five, Feb 1975

“No! Although my spirit my writhe in immeasurable torment — The Silver Surfer cannot kill!”

SUMMARY
The Fantastic Four are walking through Central Park when a gang of muggers attempt to assault them. Ben easily intimidates them but just at that moment, the Silver Surfer arrives and nearly destroys them. Taking them right to the point of death, he stops in moral torment. He reveals that he has discovered that Shalla-Bal, the love of his life from his home planet, is in Latveria, wiped of her memories, and apparently married to Doctor Doom. Doom tells him that he will release Shalla-Bal to him if he destroys the FF. Recalling this, the Surfer rallies and begins to kill the FF once more.

COMMENTARY

On this page, the image of the Silver Surfer himself joins the collective FF in his destructive torment of them.

On this page, the image of the Silver Surfer himself joins the collective FF in his destructive torment of them.

This is a slightly shorter than usual issue of the FF, and most of it is told in flashback, but it is a very fun and exciting issue. To begin with, it is nice to see the Silver Surfer back in these pages. We last saw him in issue 123, where the planet was debating whether or not to give him back to Galactus in order to have him leave our world alone. It is nice to catch up with him and find out what he has been up to in the mean time.

This information is relayed to us in a series of very compelling visual montages. Rich Buckler has really shifted up a gear and made what could have been an awkward, exposition heavy issue a complete visual delight. As we enter the world of the Silver Surfer’s recollection, the panel borders swim and mold themselves to the characters they contain. Important images are exploded to intimidate or minimized to undercut the tension. A vibrant double-paged spread with no internal panel borders is followed immediately by a page segmented by two many, designed to thwart our narrative expectations of a comic flow. Not only have the images of this story been creatively imagined, but also their composition on the page, and even the sequence in which those pages are presented.

Fantastic Four 155And we also have the return of Doctor Doom, who Buckler has always excelled at portraying — his very first tale on this title was a Doom story, it should be remembered. Here he is maniacal, cloak billowing about him in the storm of his own madness, a much more commanding visual presence than even the powerful Silver Surfer.

We feel the predicament that the Surfer is in, and we really do wonder what the resolution for our heroes will be. The Surfer’s humanity is, after all, still very young in him — his power is older, and his love for Shalla-Bal precedes even that. Therefore, the lives of the FF weigh comparatively light in the balance.

EVALUATION: 7/10

Posted in 07/10 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 155. Battle Royale