In the fourth issue of The Fantastic Four, the Marvel 616 Universe gets a whole lot bigger and a whole lot older.
The start of the issue finds Reed, Sue, and Ben arguing over finding Johnny Storm who abandoned the team at the end of the last issue. There is a flashback to the last issue to set the scene. The three remaining members of the team split up to search the city to see if they can find Johnny. And while Kirby’s artwork has heavily hinted that this story is placed in New York, Lee’s text finally confirms it in this issue. This issue also establishes that every member of the Fantastic Four is famous across the country. Although some people at this point still think Reed and company are made up, thus implying people in the 616 are reading about Reed in Marvel comics.
Despite Ben and Johnny constantly bickering, or maybe because of it, they know each other well. The Thing knows Johnny will be working on cars in an old garage and he confronts Johnny. In this scene, Johnny demonstrates that he can control his powers effectively because he can have his heat at the right temperature not to ignite the gas where he is. Also, in this issue, for the first time, Johnny says his famous catchphrase, “Flame on!”
Also, once again, The Thing changes back to human form albeit for only a little while. This further establishes Reed Richards could find a cure for him. It’s something Reed is going to work for years on to no avail.
After Ben and Johnny have their fight, Johnny goes to the neighborhood known as The Bowery and finds lodging for the evening. Here we get another meta-reference in Marvel 616. Johnny is reading an old comic book from the 1940s about The Sub-Mariner. The Sub-Mariner is a character Timely comics, the predecessor of Marvel debuted in 1939. He is Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s Aquaman. Making this reference even more interesting is the fact that Sub-Mariner used to be one of Timely’s top three characters, the other two being Captain America and the original Human Torch. It’s perfectly fitting then that Johnny Storm, the most famous Human Torch is the one to find Sub-Mariner. Sub-Mariner is in a cheap hotel along with Johnny but seems to have lost his memory. The crowd at the hotel turns on Sub-Mariner but Johnny steps in to defend him. He then shaves Sub-Mariner and realizes this is the Sub-Mariner.
With the introduction of this character to Marvel 616, or maybe more accurately, re-introduction, the universe can now be dated back to at least 1939, although the Sub-Mariner’s adventures from that time period do not necessarily count in 616 continuity.
Johnny Storm knows Namor’s (aka Sub-Mariner) power comes from the sea. Johnny does what he thinks is the smart and merciful thing and tosses Namor into the sea. Namor certainly gets his power back. He quickly discovers his underwater home has been destroyed by Atomic testing.
This is a theme that will come back again and again in 616 stories. Atomic energy drives both good and evil depending on who uses it and how it is used. This is extremely relevant considering the cold war that continues for decades. Atomic energy is so important in these stories that the mutants in the X-Men comics will be given the title of, “Children of the Atom”. Sub-Mariner was able to give voice to those who could see the dangers of Atomic energy in the world at the time. Sub-Mariner will also become the most powerful and famous “frenemy” of The Fantastic Four.
After realizing his home is destroyed and the surface world is responsible, Namor calls upon a gigantic sea monster to attack the city and get revenge. At this point, Johnny signals the rest of the team by writing a giant 4 in the sky. This isn’t the first time the team has been signaled in the sky, but it is the first time that Johnny does it.
The team converges to stop the threat. This allows The Thing to strap a nuclear bomb to his back (again with the Atomic energy as both hero and menace) and enter into the mouth of the giant sea creature known as Giganto. The Thing has to fight a couple of creatures inside Giganto but he makes his escape.
While Johnny, Reed, and The Thing have some success fighting Namor, it’s The Invisible Girl who saves the day in this story. She is able to steal the horn Namor used to call the sea monster. Namor catches Sue while she is invisible and she decides since she is caught she might as well drop the invisibility. Namor falls in love with Sue Storm instantly. This sets up the first real rival to Reed Richards for Sue’s affections. Namor tells Susan if she will be his bride, he will give up his anger towards the human race. Sue Storm, of course, is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the world. Namor realizes that she is consenting not out of love or attraction. He thought he was offering her marriage as an extension of honor and quickly rescinds the offer, although it is clear he still finds her attractive.
The team has to fight Namor to save the world. Johnny, realizing Namor’s power is bound to the water, creates a vortex of air that lifts Namor away from the water so he is weakened and deposits him far out into the sea. Namor again swears he will have his revenge and the setup of a decades-long relationship between him and the Fantastic Four has been set.
While the events described above are truly enough to be of major significance to the 616 universe, there is one other detail in this book I have not yet mentioned. Sprinkled throughout the issue every few pages is what surely must have been a mysterious yet exciting tease for something to come. Every few pages we see a question. “Who is the Hulk?” And we are told, “You’ve never seen anyone like the Hulk!”
To this day we are still trying to get the true answer to the question “Who is the Hulk?” The statement is a little less true but we’ll get into why that is when Hulk finally makes his 616 debut.
But before we get there we have a couple of short Tales to Astonish stories to discuss.
Next on the reading list is Tales to Astonish #29 (A Story).