Marvel 616 Review – The Fantastic Four #13

The Fantastic Four Issue 13. Photo Credit: Marvel Writer Stan Lee, Art: Jack Kirby

While we have seen The Fantastic Four a few times in other books, it’s been a bit since one of their own issues has shown up on the 616 reading list. This issue is notable as it introduces one of the most powerful and mysterious entities in all of Marvel 616.

The issue begins with a lab accident at the Baxter building. Reed Richards is working on a new kind of jet propulsion fuel and has so much success he more or less blows up the lab. Thing and Johnny Storm both try to jump into action and rescue Reed but Reed has on a safety suit and actually has to save Johnny. The Human torch was about to fly into some chemical fumes that likely would have killed him and/or exploded even worse.

This is going to be far from the last time Reed Richards nearly destroys his home and family in the name of scientific achievement. He’s pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.

Reed has apparently used some material components he found in a meteor crater and if he can harness this energy he’ll have, “discovered a booster fuel powerful enough to enable us to catch up with the reds in the race to the moon!”

At the time, this would have been seen as a major achievement by anyone in America so it’s understandable Reed is excited. He also suspects the “reds” had this thought before him and might be why they were ahead of America at the time. He seems to think they got this material somewhere in Siberia.

With this fuel, Reed decides he is going to go to the “mysterious blue area of the moon!”

The team is not about to let Reed go alone so reluctantly, Reed agrees to allow them all to join.

We next shift the scene behind the iron curtain where a scientist is training a gorilla to operate a space ship. He’s also training a baboon to shoot guns and an orangutan to use tools to repair the ship. This scientist is Ivan Kragoff and he’s training his “apes” to go to the moon so he can claim it for the communist empire.

However unlikely it may be, both Reeds ship and Kragoff’s ship launch at the same time. Kragoff, has another motive as well. He knows cosmic rays gave the FF their powers so he built his own ship in a way he will absorb some of those rays. He’s looking for some super powers.

On the way up, the FF see Kragoff’s ship. Johnny is itching to try out a special costume Reed made for him that will allow him to flame on and be in space because it, “releases an artificial atmosphere” around Johnny.

Johnny flies to the ship to see Kragoff and his apes. Kragoff is trying to figure out what cool new powers they all have. It looks like nothing until the gorilla demonstrates some super strength. The baboon seems to be able to shape change, the orangutan has magnetic powers and is able to push Johnny off course because of that.

Johnny makes it back to his ship and tells the team the situation. Reed is aware of Kragoff and they know a fight is coming once they land.

The FF’s rocket touches down on the mysterious blue area where they find what looks like an abandoned city. One thing to note here is at this point since man had not actually landed on the moon, this kind of story was somewhat more believable. For all we knew there really could have been an old abandoned city on the moon.

After they land the team realizes there is enough of an atmosphere here they can breathe and operate like normal. Reed starts to look for Kragoff’s ship but they notice a modern house with what looks like someone living in it. In the excitement to see that, the group leaves Thing behind. Thing goes to kick a rock but it turns out to be the baboon. Thing is soon surrounded by all the apes and Kragoff who calls himself, The Red Ghost. Basically Kragoff can turn himself, “unsolid” like a ghost so no one can hit him. His powers are reminiscent of what the Vision’s phasing powers will be.

As the five of them scuffle around, a mysterious being shows up and tells them all to just knock it off. He calls himself the Watcher and proves he is immensely powerful but just putting the apes in some kind of bubble.

Watcher calls out to all the earthlings and tells them he comes from a planet that is one vast, giant computer. He goes through a rundown of some of the things he has seen including entire civilizations destroying themselves. And he speaks about how he and his people have only ever observed and never before made their presence known.

The Watcher wants to save humans from their own savagery. He doesn’t care if we blow up Earth but now Reed and Kragoff have brought the fight to Watcher’s turf. He wants Thing and Kragoff to duke it out one on one and Watcher just sort of disappears.

Reed and the rest of the gang do find Thing and take him back to the house they were checking out. Seems like it’s probably the Watcher’s place according to Ben. Watcher then whisks everyone away to a battlefield inside a “dead city.”

As you would expect there is a fight between the FF and the Red Ghost and his apes. The fight goes poorly for our heroes at first. Red Ghost manages to capture Sue Storm and speed away in a car that goes underground. The rest of the FF regroup and Reed figures out they need to outsmart the opposition rather than use brute force. Reed sends Johnny and Ben to go after Sue and tries to make a weapon out of the technology he finds in the dead city.

Meanwhile, Sue is trapped with the Red Ghost who explains his apes obey him when they are at their hungriest so he keeps them locked behind a force field. Red Ghost then leaves and Sue says, “If I could only find a way to eliminate this force field– to free the super-apes! I would take my chances with them, rather than the Red Ghost, for they are like the communist masses, innocently enslaved by their evil leaders!” This quote stood out to me because so far, in almost all of the issues of Marvel 616 where communists show up, there’s not any mention of ordinary citizens. Instead, they all tend to be lumped together as evil but here Stan Lee really is making a distinction, although kind of a clumsy one with the moon as a proxy fight for democracy versus communism. It’s not a huge stretch to think this could have, in some ways, been intended to be a statement on the conflict in Vietnam. You know, just with super-apes on the moon.

Sue is able to free the apes and rather than attack her they go for the food. Then they break the door down, conveniently allowing Sue Storm to escape.

Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm chase down the Red Ghost but he has a disintegrator ray he found waiting for them. Luckily, Sue catches up to them before they can be harmed and she warns them it’s a trap. Johnny melts the ray and heats up the air around Red Ghost causing him to flee. Red Ghost gets to the surface and sees the house of the Watcher and figures there’s probably some pretty good stuff in there.

Unfortunately for the Red Ghost everything the Watcher has is just beyond human understanding (much like the character Uatu himself). Needless to say, the Watcher is not cool with someone breaking into his house. He tells Red Ghost he could send him to limbo, to the dawn of time, or to the end of time but he’s not worth the effort and just tosses the guy out of his house without even touching him.

As he gets tossed Reed hits the Red Ghost with a paralyzing ray he built. At this point the FF are pretty sure they’ve won but realize they don’t know for sure until the Watcher says so. The Watcher does show up and declares the contest over and the FF to have won. He also says his own mission is at an end. He says, “Now that mankind has reached the moon, I must go to a more distant part of the galaxy, to observe you mortals from afar! For we Watchers must be ever aloof– ever apart from other races!” We all know we’re going to see this character again and that he’s immensely important to the 616 continuity but it’s still a pretty impressive entrance and exit.

After the Watcher leaves the apes turn on their master. Reed and company head back to Earth ready for a rest and to give the new rocket fuel to the National Space Agency. At the very end of the issue we’re teased with a promise of an appearance by both Sub-Mariner and the Puppet Master for the next issue.

Overall this is a really fun issue, even if the idea of super apes is a bit ridiculous. The cosmic weirdness the Fantastic Four can achieve is beyond any other comic book heroes this side of Green Lantern and it’s always great to see a cosmic being introduced. Although he isn’t named in the issue this Watcher is Uatu who is a key component of tons of Marvel 616 stories. He’s also the narrator for some of the most fun stories Marvel puts out which are the What If comics. It’ll be a while until he’s a real regular but the Fantastic Four comics would not be nearly as fantastic without the influence of the Watcher, who is incidentally, the one guy who shouldn’t be influencing anyone.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be getting small once again as we catch up with Ant-Man in the pages of Tales to Astonish #42!

Marvel 616 Review – Fantastic Four #12

The Fantastic Four Issue 12 Photo Credit: Marvel

In all of comic book history there is one type of event which sells more issues than any other. The crossover issue. This is an issue where characters guest star in pages of one another’s books. A lot of times this is to team up and destroy some great evil. Other times there are heroes who are good at heart but have a slightly different view of the world and they end up butting heads. Nobody pulled the latter type of crossover off better than Stan Lee.

From the first moments when we knew there was The Thing and The Hulk fans wondered which character was stronger. The eagerness to see the answer to that only increases whenever Ben Grimm brags he could knock out The Hulk any day of the week. Hulk hasn’t specifically called out The Thing in his book before but we as the readers already know Hulk has destroyed a ton of seemingly indestructible things (pun intended).

The cover of issue 12 promises a “book-length epic” and we can tell from the beginning this is going to be a big deal.

The issue starts off with Ben Grimm on a date with his girlfriend at the symphony. He’s in his usual disguise of a trench coat, fedora, and sunglasses. It’s not a great disguise but I guess it works well enough. On the way out, they see a company of infantrymen. A man next to Thing knocks his hat off and Ben, in a fit of anger, lifts the man up with one hand. The soldiers see this and think they’ve just caught a glimpse of the Hulk. They try out a few gadgets to restrain Ben, including a snap cable contraption that wraps around him, and a gas grenade. None of it is effective for long. The gas does slow Ben down, however. The soldiers explain the situation but Ben is even more insulted they think he’s the Hulk and says, “You tryin to tell me you thought that brainless lump of lard was me?!! Of all the crummy…” So, yeah Ben’s in prime fighting mood by this point.

Ben Grimm drops Alicia off and heads back to the Baxter building. He can’t find his electronic beam to open the elevator so he just rips off the door and climbs thirty-five floors up the cable. Ben relates the story to Reed Richards and the gang. He says, “Next they’ll be takin’ me for Frankenstein!” This quip actually works on multiple levels because Frankenstein’s monster is exactly what Stan Lee based Hulk off of in the first place.

Coincidentally, the Fantastic Four had just received a call from General Thunderbolt Ross who wants to talk to Reed about The Hulk. Ben is skeptical of Ross and isn’t even sure if there really is a Hulk since he’d never seen him in person. Ross comes in and apologizes to Ben, explaining the only way to recognize the Hulk is by his superhuman strength. (I guess the green/sometimes gray skin is not enough of a tip off.)

Ben immediately states he can make mincemeat of The Hulk. Ross shows everyone a picture of the Hulk and lets the team know a missile installation in the desert has been sabotaged. Ross assumes it had to have been Hulk. Ross asks the FF to find and destroy the Hulk.

Ross then shows them some film footage of Hulk destroying a cannon. This frightens Sue Storm enough that she accidentally turns invisible. Weirdly, Ben seems kind of insulted Sue thinks Hulk is more terrifying than he is.

We’re next treated to some panels where Ben imagines ways he would beat Hulk. Johnny Storm does the same thing. Even Reed thinks of defeating Hulk by surprising the monster and smothering him. Sue thinks all she can do is go along for the ride, unsure how she might help.

In a panel that just shows how dismissive men were of women at the time, General Ross states, “A pretty young lady can always be of help–just by keeping the men’s morale up!” Reed agrees by saying, “That’s just the way we feel about Sue, General!” Keep in mind, out of all of these characters, the only one with a real shot of stopping the Hulk would be Sue Storm. She would just need to send a tiny force bubble of air into his bloodstream and no more Hulk. Plus she is the only one who could actually use the element of surprise against him.

Reed then shows off the fantasti-car to Ross. It’s got a new and more futuristic design thanks to Johnny’s tinkering. They hop in the car and head to the desert to try to find the Hulk. Ross shows them some debris he says the Hulk crushed.

The real crossover starts to happen when Reed Richards is taken to a meeting where Dr. Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are both present. Also there is an assistant to Banner named Dr. Karl Kort. Banner insists all the equipment was destroyed from the inside out and that a rampaging Hulk would have torn the device from the outside in.

Reed and Bruce do have a strong mutual respect and have ready one another’s work. Kort leaves the meeting early and is pretty freaked out by The Thing. Ben gets too bored waiting and barges in on the meeting. There’s a tussle to get control of the meeting again and Ross rages at the FF. The only person to defend them is Bruce Banner. Ross then insults Ben Grimm in the worst way possible saying, “Looks to me like you’re afraid of The Hulk!”

Banner offers his help to the FF to find “The Wrecker”. Banner and Rick say it’s a saboteur doing the damage. Ross pretty much just fumes the whole time. Banner finds himself wishing he could tell them why he’s so sure Hulk is innocent.

Back at Banner’s hideout he shows Rick a model of the device that was wrecked. Turns out it was supposed to make any city completely invulnerable to enemy missiles. In a sort of random series of events, Rick Jones ends up with Karl Kort’s wallet and sees a membership card to a “subversive communist-front organization!” Kort sees Rick though and pulls a gun on him.

This leads into the fourth part of the story, appropriately titled “The Hulk at last!”

Reed and his team have been fixing up army equipment in the form of some kind of rocket powered sled. Thing is easily able to withstand the g-forces as he pilots it for the first time. There’s a bend in the rails of the track for the sled and Ben goes flying but Johnny and Reed save the day. The army blames Ben even though it was clearly sabotaged.

Bruce Banner rushes to the FF to ask for help since he can’t find Rick Jones. He doesn’t tell them why he’s sure it isn’t The Hulk though and this leaves the team suspicious of Banner. Bruce decides to transform to the Hulk so he can save Rick.

There are underground tunnels Hulk, the FF and Kort all converge in. Hulk thinks he needs to fight the FF to get them to leave the area. This was Kort’s demand in order to release Rick. And at long last we get to see The Hulk face to face with The Thing.

Hulk gets in the first punch, knocking Ben to the ground. But Ben is hard enough to hurt Hulk’s hand. The Human Torch is up next but Hulk buries him in sand, thus dousing Johnny’s flames. Hulk punches his way up out of the tunnels and buries Ben and Johnny underneath him.

Yet the Hulk is not aware of just how good Reed Richards is at finding the smallest crack to stretch through to get out of a trap. Reed wraps his arms around the Hulk. Hulk breaks free but so do Johnny and Ben. Hulk throws a wooden frame house from an old west ghost town at the team. This doesn’t stop them at all. Hulk next tries to separate them. He’s about to power dive Thing when he gets wrapped up by Reed. Hulk spins his way out of it. But Johnny is right there flying at the Hulk. Hulk gives one of his thunderclaps which causes a sonic boom strong enough to knock down three out of the four of the FF. Thing socks Hulk right on the jaw and this time its Hulk who is knocked back.

Just as we’re about to find out who wins the fight Hulk is hit with some kind of atomic ray. Ben is really mad he didn’t get to finish his fight and seconds later is confronted with a giant robot. Ben realizes this is The Wrecker’s machine and he finds the door to the guy’s lab. Ben smashes the door in to find Karl Kort. By now, everyone has realized it wasn’t Hulk who did the destruction earlier.

Just as Kort is about to hit Ben with the same ray he hit Hulk with, Sue knocks the ray out of Kort’s hands.

The bad guy is captured. Hulk realizes he doesn’t need to fight The Thing and might be too weak to do it anyway and goes back to change into Bruce Banner once more.

Ross holds a little ceremony for the FF and Reed and Bruce say they would like to meet again. The end of the issue asks, “Will the Hulk again meet the Fantastic Four??” I think we all know the answer to that.

This was a fairly major issue for the 616 universe. It was test to see if there was enough appeal to have characters regularly cross over to other books. The formula must have been successful enough considering it’s still done all the time.

Next up on the reading list we’re checking in on one of the few people who might be able to beat both Hulk and Thing in a fight, the god of thunder, Thor, himself in Journey Into Mystery #90!

Marvel 616 Review – Strange Tales #107

Strange Tales Issue 107 Photo Credit: Marvel

Here we have one of the first grudge matches of the Marvel 616 universe. On the cover you can see it is Namor vs. Johnny Storm, an epic match up of fire against water. This type of story will become a regular staple of Marvel comics but this one does have some unique features.

The issue starts with Johnny Storm coming home from school to see the rest of the team has had a meeting without him. This is definitely a boys club because Reed remarks how they were working on the notes for their next Fantastic Four adventure and, “Sue was nice enough to type them up for us!” It’s a little ridiculous that Sue Storm has one of the strongest powers in all of Marvel with her ability to become invisible and create force fields but she’s seen as what amounts to as a secretary even by her own team.

Anyway the team, especially The Thing, kind of antagonizes Johnny, reminding him of quitting the team in the last issue. Johnny then decides he’s tired of being treated like a kid and decides to set his sights on winning a fight with a foe single handed. His idea is to go after Namor all alone and beat the Sub-mariner.

He shoots out of his apartment and flies to the sea. His flame dies out and he has to land on a boat. He tells everyone on board who he is but they all think he’s just some stowaway. After the waters get foggy, Johnny is able to light the way for the boat and the sailors realize their mistake.

Johnny sky writes a challenge to Namor just above the surface of the water and Namor gets it. He’s none too happy with Johnny. The pair duke it out going back and forth as to who looks like they might win. Namor uses the power of a puffer fish to save himself at one point, while Johnny goes supernova underwater with his flames. Namor is able to hypnotize Johnny at one point and gets the upper hand. It doesn’t last long though and Johnny is back in the fight.

Johnny is able to flame on while he’s under the water. His powers are still rather loosely defined at this point in the 616 so this kind of thing happens often where it seems like he shouldn’t be able to use his powers but does anyway. Eventually Johnny traps Namor in an underwater cave and gets away.

Exhausted, Johnny meets the same boat he helped earlier, and they give him passage on the ship.

Of course, Namor is not stuck for long and he breaks out. He assumes Johnny has left since he doesn’t see him around anywhere and figures he would have flown back to the continent by this point. Namor is somewhat relieved as the fight has gone out of him a bit. He also realizes Johnny is much stronger than Namor thought. Add that to the fact Johnny is not fully grown and Namor understands what a powerhouse of an ally he could be.

Namor imagines the two of them joining forces to beat the FF and holding the entire world in their hands.

A lot of this issue is just typical fighting for the sake of fighting. But the end with Namor contemplating what could be seems like it could be the foundation for a What if? story.

This was the first real one on one grudge match with Johnny and Namor but it won’t be the last. I also think it’s interesting how Namor was minding his own business and Johnny decides to start a fight. That’s not typically a hero move but it seems to work out in this case.

Up next on the reading list we’ll be sticking with Johnny Storm and the rest of his pals as he and the team meet The Hulk in Fantastic Four #12!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #106

Strange Tales Issue 106 Photo Credit: Marvel

In the pages of The Fantastic Four one of the more common storylines is for one member or another to leave the team. There have been times when this lasted a while but most often it is resolved in an issue or two at the most.

Strange Tales stars Johnny Storm in his own adventures but the rest of the FF have shown up here and there on several occasions. In issue 106, it’s advertised as a guest appearance for the Fantastic Four. There’s nothing unusual about this appearance but it does show Marvel is trying to tie a superhero universe together. One of the best ways to do this is to use the team that kicked off the 616 universe as much as possible.

It’s been a little confusing in Strange Tales for Johnny to live in Glenville but show up consistently at the Baxter building in the pages of The Fantastic Four as if he is living there. Johnny and Sue seem to be sometimes living in Glenville and sometimes at the Baxter building as well.

This issue starts off with Johnny zipping around an obstacle course Reed has created for him. Next a visitor arrives at Johnny and Sue’s Glenville home, asking to see The Human Torch. This should be surprising because Johnny has tried to disguise his identity in Glenville. This never made sense considering the FF are publicly known figures but Johnny tries to keep a secret identity anyway.

Johnny gets home and ditches his costume in an alley. (Side note here to mention a lot of Marvel heroes really do seem to think hiding their costumes in an alley is a great strategy.) Even as he is doing this, people are pointing out the Human Torch usually arrives home around this time.

As Johnny enters his home he is greeted by Sue and one Mr. Zante who knows Johnny is the Torch. Johnny is utterly shocked by this revelation but Sue admits “All of Glenville knows of your dual role!” This is one of the first times (but far from the last) when Marvel subverts expectations about secret identities not only to the reader but also to the character hiding a secret identity. This is similar to a future event involving Mary Jane Parker and Spider-man but to be clear, this type of revelation happens first in Strange Tales 106 with Johnny Storm.

A big question in my mind would be why Sue lets Mr. Zante in without knowing anything about him but she does. Johnny feels a bit embarrassed about everyone knowing his secret but Sue assures him everyone was just respecting his desire for privacy. She then leaves saying, “Now I’ll leave you two alone for your man talk!” Yeah, not exactly the most progressive of eras in publishing but it is what it is.

It turns out this Zante is an acrobat and thinks Johnny and he should team up and form their own super team called “The Torrid Twosome.” Not a name that would go over well now but might have made sense at the time. Zante recalls a bunch of adventures the Fantastic Four had and highlights all of Johnny’s biggest contributions. He tries to convince Johnny that Reed Richards is exploiting him because Reed keeps most of the money for research rather than paying Johnny more.

Johnny races over to Reed and starts to complain, going so far as to demand a salary. There’s a silly tussle with The Thing because, of course there is. In the end Reed says no, stating the money really does need to be used for research. Again, one of the biggest foes the FF face truly is money. It causes all sorts of problems for the team.

Johnny leaves the team and flies out of the window telling them he’s going to be part of the Torrid Twosome. When Johnny calls up Zante to tell him the news we get the first real impression Zante is up to no good. He thinks to himself, “By the time he learns the truth–It’ll be too late!”

Johnny next designs a rather ugly green and orange outfit, complete with beret made out of unstable molecules. Sue tries to convince Johnny not to join up with Zante but he just keeps going on and on about his new outfit.

Zante shows up the next day and tells Johnny there is a man stuck in a bank vault. The plan is for Johnny to melt through the vault and free the bank teller. The Torch flies through and melts the door to find no one inside. Zante follows and shoots Johnny with a liquid asbestos gun. He just wanted Johnny to open the vault so he could steal the money. As if that wasn’t enough, Zante shoots Johnny in the arm with a regular gun as he makes his escape.

The police attempt to catch Zante but because he’s an acrobat they have a pretty hard time of it. But when Zante gets to his getaway car it goes nowhere thanks to The Thing hanging onto the bumper to keep it from moving. Soon Reed and Sue show up to pitch in. They have him caught and all but arrested when Johnny comes out of the bank and demands the FF leave Zante for him.

There’s a bit of a chase but Johnny has a bum arm so it takes a bit longer than normal for him to catch the criminal. He ends up melting the pavement right under the guy’s feet, making it impossible for Zante to walk. Johnny then admits he never truly believed Zante but he had to string him along to find out what he was up to. The issue ends with Johnny back on the team and this time tossing away his Terrible Twosome costume in the same alley where he had been hiding his Fantastic Four uniform. With that, everything is back to normal and the FF can operate as whole team once again.

Next up on the reading list, we’re sticking with Johnny Storm for another story as we catch up with The Human Torch in the pages of Strange Tales #107!