Sunday, July 07, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #2

"The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls from Outer Space!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Klein
(January 1962)

The Marvel Universe will be home to a great many alien races, but I have to confess that the Skrulls are some of my favorites. Mainly because they just look so neat. I love their design. And they would eventually give us the Super-Skrull, one of my favorite FF villains.

This story starts with a great reversal of the previous issue's beginning, reintroducing us to each character, but instead of the heroes gathering, it's the inverse: here they're stealing jewels or destroying oil platforms.

This criminal rampage turns out to be the shape-shifting Skrulls attempting to discredit the Fantastic Four, figuring that the FF will be imprisoned and they'll be free to carry out their conquest of the planet. So we can assume at this point that the Fantastic Four are no longer shadowy characters of mystery, but publicly-known entities. It's not really explained how it happened, but it suits the FF much better. In a touch I find kind of charming, the foursome find out they've been declared public enemies while vacationing in the woods at a hunting lodge. The idea of the Fantastic Four having a hunting lodge is just something I find cutely old-fashioned.

Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben give themselves up when the Army comes calling, which is another nice touch. They submit to the law because they're the good guys and they don't want to hurt soldiers who are just doing their jobs. They do, however, escape the compound where they're being held in order to solve this case of mistaken identity on their own. Lee & Kirby have a great couple of pages where we see each team member figuring out how to escape their individual cells, thus showcasing for us once again the unique talents, temperaments and powers of each character. (And in a nice touch, Sue is the first to escape--she simply becomes invisible and rushes past her guards when they open the door to feed her.)

I like the way they play the Skrulls as fifth columnists merely infiltrating Earth for the future invading Skrull armada. I also greatly enjoy the self-referential way that Reed Richards convinces the Skrull captain that the Earth cannot be conquered: by showing him clippings of Kirby monsters from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery and claiming they're photographs of Earth soldiers. I love the way Marvel Comics actually exists in the Marvel Universe (though at this point there's not really a Marvel Universe yet and the line isn't even called Marvel Comics). Extra points for guts: while our four heroes are doing this, they're also pretending to be the four Skrull spies in disguise!

(There is a Kirby mistake; when the FF return to Earth there are only three Skrull spies left, leading to debate over the years to what happened to the fourth one.)

I do feel a little creepy about the way Reed punishes the Skrulls. They basically beg to defect to Earth, but Reed says they can't be trusted, haves them transform themselves into cows, hypnotizes them into believing they're just dumb cows, and then leaves them in a field. So now they're content, cared for, completely removed of their agency and consciousness, and waiting to be made into burgers. So... victory? That's pretty cold, Reed. Pretty cold indeed.

All in all, though, a pretty great issue, if you get past the chilling ending of basically brainwashing the bad guys.

Some other observations:

:: Still no costumes yet.

:: How immediately did Human Torch become the breakout character of the book? It's the second issue, and he's already being given a slightly larger role. Here he gets to lure out the spies by pretending to be one of them. My favorite character, though, is still the Thing.

:: Speaking of, the dehumanization of Ben Grimm continues. Once again, everyone's still referring to him as "Thing" instead of "Ben," which still rankles me. There are at least two occasions in this issue where Reed tries to calm him down with "Easy, Thing, easy." How could you not want to punch Reed in the face when he does that? I mean, I know it's his superhero name and all, but when you're just hanging out at a hunting lodge not fighting villains? Not cool. If I got mad and my best friend said to me "Easy, fatty, easy," I would bite off part of his ear.

How can you not feel sympathy for the guy? His humanity's just trapped inside this rocky body. One of my favorite passages, though, is immediately after this when Reed gives us a slight recap of how they became the Fantastic Four. He just straight blames himself for everything that happened. When Sue wonders if Ben's anger is getting out of hand and dangerous, Reed actually counsels patience and says "It's my fault that he is the way he is." So Reed's not as bad a friend as his cavalier attitude sometimes makes it seem. He still comes across as arrogant, but in a way it's nice that he won't afford himself any self-pity.

:: If you didn't feel sorry enough for Ben by now, this happens after the FF return from space, having gone through the radiation belt that gave them their powers a second time. And this is only the first time Ben has a temporary, fleeting reprieve from his new appearance. Look how sad he is in that last panel. Poor Ben!

:: During the origin recap, Reed says that the ship they were piloting when they hit the radiation belt was meant to take them to Mars. How long did he think it was going to take?

:: I like how the Skrull rocket ship is disguised as one of those rooftop water towers.

:: Kirby outdoes himself in this issue; the action is visually dynamic and weird, particularly in the imaginative ways Mr. Fantastic uses his powers, at one point moving his whole body through a tiny, tiny hole.

Another really enjoyable issue of a great comic book.

Next time: hypnosis!


Nik said...

I do like how they came back to the "skrull cows" a few times over the years to addess that rather nasty implications of their transformation...

Hobgoblin238 said...

Just noticed you deleted my blog from your list. Okie dokie. I will have to do the same. I have commented here several times yet you never said anything on mine. I also notice you do not comment on the blogs we have in common. What a selfish blogger you are. Adios!

Roger Owen Green said...

Since you didn't ask: I don't think of you as a selfish blogger. You've commented rarely on my blog, but you've made an occasional link or comment in the blog itself.

To the matter at hand: one of the saddest things I ever read in comic books was Ben Grimm becoming The thing again. I nearly cried, and I read it well after it came out, maybe when I was in my 30s.

Autumn said...

I just realized you don't gush and fawn over every comment I make on your blog, AND you don't read and enjoy every other blog I do, so I am uninviting you to my slumber party. We just don't have the connection I thought we did, and you clearly don't appreciate me. Don't you realize you this blog is not for fun? This is a job and a responsibility. You can't just post somewhere or reply to a comment when you feel like it or you actually have something to say in response. EVERY POST EVERY TIME. Seriously, you are going to miss out on the best night of caramel corn and hair braiding ever. I might have even pulled out the Bedazzler and just think of all the rhinestone flowers we could have added to your wardrobe. Obviously your loss.

But seriously? Keep on writing, your blog and Tumblr brighten my day.

SamuraiFrog said...

You are fantastic, Autumn.