Through the years the Fantastic Four have faced many, many villains. Some more memorable than the rest but if we were to put all of them in a room together and decide which one has come the closest to completely and irrevocably destroying the first family of superheroes there is a clear winner. Money problems.
That’s right, financial woes consistently plague the team and it’s an issue they continually have to face. But the first time it became a real issue for them was right here in issue number nine. This was actually a new innovation in comic book storytelling. Over at DC and other magazines where there were superheroes galore the only time money was mentioned was to let the reader know how wealthy Bruce Wayne was. Stan Lee, in his effort to make heroes more relatable to us struck upon a brilliant realization. Even people who can turn into fire, are strong as ten men, can become invisible, and stretch farther than any human has a right to, still need to pay rent. It’s what made the early issues of Marvel 616 so compelling. Yes these are super humans but we get to see not just the emphasis on the super part. They are distinctly human. And there’s nothing more human than needing pay for where you live.
At the beginning of the issue we see Namor, The Sub-Mariner, watching a news bulletin talking about the demise of the Fantastic Four. We don’t know what he is planning to do but he clearly wants to take advantage of the situation.
We’re then shown a group of debt collectors, landlords, and other sorted people trying to collect some money from the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards with all his brilliance made a bad stock move and the markets tanked a bit and now Reed is in debt. This doesn’t sit well with the team, especially The Thing but the FF are good guys so they intend to pay everyone back. Reed has come up with a scheme to sell off all of their cool gadgets for a bit of quick cash but it will mean the group has to disband and move out of their beloved Baxter building. (This is definitely not the last time this is going to happen either)
Ben Grimm even momentarily flirts with the idea of giving a thought to crime. He flies into a bit of a rage when people come to collect a plane Reed has sold to them. They calm him down but he walks out saying, “Those three do-gooders were beginnin’ to cramp my style!” Hailing a cab the driver refuses to take The Thing anywhere, knowing he can’t pay. Thing’s response? He chucks the cab up onto a streetlamp. He then uses the FF’s flare gun just to get a ride out of Johnny Storm. This allows him to go visit Alicia, the kind, blind woman who he met last issue. She happens to be the stepdaughter of an evil mastermind but she herself is very caring and makes Ben feel pretty lousy for how he was behaving just by being nice to him.
Next we see Reed commenting to Sue and Johnny, “If only we could be like the super heroes in some of these comic magazines, Sue! They never seem to worry about money! Life is a breeze for them!” Stan Lee is throwing some serious shade there.
Moments later Reed is given what might be their best hope. An offer of a million dollars to star in a movie. Ben comes back and off to Hollywood they go. They go to the newly formed S.M. Studios. Gee, I wonder what that S.M. could possibly stand for? Gasp, it’s the Sub-Mariner!
As taken aback as the team is, Namor assures them his offer is real and he backs it up by providing them with some cold, hard, cash up front. He has plenty of money because he can just plunder any underwater treasure he finds and he knows where all those pirates buried everything on all those deserted islands and can dig those up any ol’ time he pleases.
Even while the team is suspicious of his motives they agree to the situation and Sue still seems attracted to Namor as she thinks, “He’s so masterful–so confident!” It’s a continuation of the love triangle between Namor, Sue, and Reed from the first time they met.
We see a couple of scenes of Johnny driving fast cars with his newfound wealth and The Thing showing off his strength on Muscle Beach. Namor takes the opportunity to have dinner with Sue. She’s suspicious of Namor but acknowledges his generosity with the money.
Of course, Namor has laid a trap here. He takes Reed Richards to an island to fight a robot cyclops. Turns out it’s the real Cyclops from Greek myth. We already knew Norse myth existed in 616 but having a Cyclops here opens up a whole bunch of other potential characters who will show up eventually, including Hercules himself. Reed handily defeats this creature after Namor has left.
In one of the more uncomfortable sections of this issue, Namor dumps Johnny Storm into the, “Dense African Jungle,” to fight a group of natives in a village which causes Johnny to say, “How can a bunch of savages give me any competition?” Yeah, as good as Marvel comics of the day were, they were far from perfect and they do fall into some pretty bad tropes and stereotypes at times. Basically, this village has a magic potion where they are fire proof. Namor has asked them to capture Johnny. He also makes it out of this trap and pretty much burns away this magic potion by unleashing a dormant volcano on the village. He doesn’t harm any humans but he did literally erupt a volcano at them which seems a bit much.
With Reed and Johnny busy elsewhere, Namor just has to deal with The Thing. This fight he takes on himself. There’s a lot of punching back and forth here and Namor wisely stays in the water as much as possible. Thing is no slouch though and he really only loses because at an opportune moment for Namor a bolt of lightning hits Thing and turns him back into the human Ben Grimm. Namor is too weak to even realize this happened when he knocks Ben out cold. This really does prove The Thing is one of the strongest people in the Marvel 616 universe and if he can nearly defeat Namor, he might make a good match for a certain green dude with purple pants.
Namor heads back to find Sue Storm and seems to think defeating her brother and her two good friends would make her want to be his bride. Sue shows a bit of agency here by saying, “Perhaps if you hadn’t deceived us — if you had been honest with us, I might have answered you differently!” She then turns invisible, reminding Namor he hasn’t defeated all of the Fantastic Four. She puts up a good fight but because Namor can use the abilities of any creature in the sea he is able to grab her by using, “the radar sense of the cave fish from the lowest depths of the sea!” The moment he grabs her, the other three members of the FF bust through the door and go right for the monarch of the sea. Sue actually defends Namor saying they made a contract with Namor and they lived up to their part of the bargain so he should live up to his part. Namor, as much as he is a bad guy at times, is honorable so he pays right up. The Fantastic Four are now out of debt and can go back to doing the whole super team thing.
Truly, the most significant part of this issue is the financial aspect and for the time, this really was a new kind of story. There will be more innovations of this type in the years to come and as time goes by the Marvel characters start to feel more like people than gods flying through the air. The next most significant part of the issue is the ongoing relationship between Ben Grimm and Alicia. She has a huge influence on Ben and there will be many stories revolving around the two of them.
For our next issue we’ll be going back to check on what the golden haired god of thunder gets up to as we read about Thor in Journey Into Mystery #87!
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