Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #7

"It Came from the Skies!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(October 1962)

The early issues of Fantastic Four are at their best, to me, when Stan and Jack are treating them like amazing science fiction spectaculars. This issue gets thing going immediately by giving us this amazing splash image of the issue's villain: Kurrgo, Master of Planet X!

Kurrgo is easily one of my favorite Kirby alien designs of all time, and so far we've had some good ones! (Particularly the Skrulls and the Stone Men from Saturn.)

Kurrgo's plan, which he carries out handily, is to send a robot operative to Earth, use a "hostility ray" to turn the public against the Fantastic Four, thus making the FF more amenable to hopping aboard a flying saucer to come to Planet X, where Kurrgo requires their help. A runaway asteroid has entered our solar system and is heading straight towards our hitherto unknown tenth planet, where Kurrgo's civilization will be destroyed (and the Earth, undeservingly to Kurrgo, will be spared).

This seems like a lot of trouble to go to. Really, he probably could've just asked Reed Richards for help and gotten it. Reed's not exactly a hard sell when it comes to doing something nice and science-y to help out someone else. But Kurrgo doesn't ask for favors; he demands them, because that's how he and his gloriously gigantic head roll. Also, the people of Planet X don't care for space travel, so they only have two ships capable of interstellar flight, so they can't just take off for less in-the-direct-path-of-a-killer-asteroid pastures.

Reed has to save five billion inhabitants of Planet X, and he takes the work seriously. Planet X is pretty impressive; they've mastered space travel, antigravity--they've even got a robot made of a metal so impervious that when the Thing tries to punch it, it hurts him! There's the requisite fighting from hotheads Ben and Johnny, but Reed refuses to waste precious time and devotes himself to helping these people. True, Kurrgo refuses to let the FF leave the planet until they've helped save everyone, but you know Reed would've stayed behind, anyway.

What's kind of funny is Reed's creation is basically a larger-scale version of Ant-Man's reducing gas. His plan is to use the gas to reduce the five billion inhabitants of Planet X so they can easily get away in one ship. When they've found another world, they can then then use an enlarging gas to get themselves back to their normal size and start civilization anew.

But, this being Stan Lee, there are a couple of twists worthy of Amazing Adult Fantasy.

First, Kurrgo lets it go to his massive head and decides that when they reach their new world, he'll only enlarge himself so that he can truly be master of the five billion. But then, on his way to the ship... he drops the canister containing the enlarging gas and can't make it to the ship! He's left behind! Left behind to die on Planet X!

And second, Reed reveals that there was never an enlarging gas; he only said there was so they'd agree to the plan. But, he points out, when they get where they're going, they'll all be the same size, and "in this vast universe of ours, one's size is only relative, anyway!"

It seems kind of cold at first--like hypnotizing the Skrulls into believing they're cows--but I get it. Time was of the essence, the situation was grim, and at least these people will survive. On the other hand, it's interesting that Reed couldn't create an enlarging gas, but Henry Pym could.

Well, he gave them a fighting chance, anyway!

Other notes:

:: Once again, the full issue-length stories allow for great asides and character development. Some of the best stuff in these issues is just watching the Four hang out and become more of a family. This is what makes Fantastic Four a special comic book: these guys aren't just a bunch of intrepid science heroes and adventurous explorers like the Challengers of the Unknown (no disrespect to that book, which is amazing), they're a family.

Here we get a whole couple of pages of Johnny, Ben and Sue talking about how they're just nervous about appearing at a Washington gala in their honor. Johnny is afraid to speak in public, Ben is self-conscious about his appearance, and Sue feels like she's not important enough for such an honor. You could argue that it's really Reed who's responsible for bringing them out of their shells. Right now, it seems like they'd all be content to hide from the public and their growing celebrity if it wasn't for Reed pushing them to take the credit they deserve. I was actually going to make a joke here about how of course it's arrogant Reed who wants to go and be feted by the Washington elite, but really, he believes they all deserve the honor as a team and doesn't downplay their important contributions as either members of the Fantastic Four, human beings in general, or his closest friends. I give Reed a lot of shit about his arrogance, but in this one... well, I just love how he honors these people and his responsibility towards them.

This issue really does some great work building up Reed Richards as a character.

:: Dig this panel of Mr. Fantastic checking out the vents to make sure everything's working okay.

He can reduce his size, and I love the way he flattens himself to get in and out. That's very imaginative on Kirby's part, and it just looks neat. I love how the creators find ways to demonstrate their capabilities.

There are some good examples of power use, too, after the hostility ray hits the gala and the Fantastic Four have to escape from Washington. Man, that never gets resolved, does it? Not even an apology from Washington for running the FF out of town?

:: I love that Reed is totally wowed by the robot's self-contained portable television receiver (which is enormous). It's so quaint in the age of smartphones. I don't mean that in a jackass way. It just makes me smile to see something we take for granted today that used to be the stuff of fiction. It makes me hopeful for what the future could be like. It all starts with the imagination.

:: In the (poorly typeset) letters page, a couple of guys complain about how the Fantasticar looks like a flying bathtub. Hey, screw you, bunkies! I love that flying bathtub!

My favorite letter this issue: Stan's simple admission of a mistake.

A great issue of old-fashioned, still-exciting sci-fi adventure. This is exactly the kind of 1960s science fiction I love, and worthy of each issue's proclamation of being the World's Greatest Comic Magazine.

Next in Marvels: Enter Loki!


bliss_infinte said...

I love the recaps, keep them coming!

Mike_D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike_D said...

Sorry, I meant:

now you're welcome...

SamuraiFrog said...

Thanks both of you!

Nathan DeHoff said...

What I was left wondering was how, if the inhabitants of Planet X were never actually reduced in size, they all fit in the same spaceship.