Thursday, April 03, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #18

"A Skrull Walks Among Us!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(September 1963)

It's been 16 issues (and one annual) since the Fantastic Four foiled the Skrull invasion. Back then, Reed scared the Skrulls off by showing them clippings from Strange Tales and claiming Earth held a variety of monsters. But the Skrulls must have figured that out, because not only are they planning a new conquest of Earth--they've also realized that the key to a successful invasion is taking out the Fantastic Four.

Enter the Super-Skrull. This guy is a great villain. With Doctor Doom in retreat, the FF have a lot of free time on their hands. Stan & Jack clearly need to raise the stakes now, and they do so by creating a hero who not only has all of the powers of the Fantastic Four, but better versions of those powers. Mister Fantastic can stretch? Super-Skrull stretches much farther--at least a hundred miles! The Human Torch can flame on; Super-Skrull can flame on for longer, fly faster, and concentrate a blast of flame so densely that it literally becomes antimatter. The Thing has incredible strength? Well...

The Super-Skrull can lift one hundred tons, apparently twenty times what the Thing can lift.

And the Invisible Girl's powers? He can duplicate those, too. And apparently there's one other secret power that's yet to be disclosed...

Damn, Skrull scientists. That is some amazing super-science.

The Fantastic Four are shopping in a department store when the Super-Skrull lands in Times Square and claims Earth for the Skrulls. (He even plants a flag in the sidewalk!) The FF are mobbed by the crowds, but rush to face this new menace.

Most of what follows is a fight scene, but it's a pretty epic one. I won't go through it blow by blow, but everyone's powers--both the FF's and the Super-Skrull's--are showcased really well. Super-Skrull flies rings around Johnny and blinds him with black carbon. He injures Reed worse than we've ever seen before. He batters the Thing so hard that Ben's thrown across the city and only stops himself by grabbing the needle at the top of the Chrysler Building. He uses his invisibility to throw them off-balance and fire flame arrows at them unseen, like the Predator. The Fantastic Four have to retreat back to the Baxter Building!

The Super-Skrull is worthy villain for the FF, and he defeats them soundly. But then he makes the cardinal mistake of so many villains: he gets arrogant about it. He lets the FF have a night to breathe before he finishes them off, and that's enough time for Reed to figure out a solution.

Reed figures out that the Super-Skrull's powers require an additional power source, and (somehow, but it's dramatic enough to accept) determines he must be receiving rays from his fifth quadrant homeworld to keep him powered. He makes a tiny, sub-miniaturized jamming device that will disrupt the signal and de-power the Super-Skrull, and decides that Sue is the only one who can get close enough to the Super-Skrull to put the device on him. (Sue, as usual, is under-utilized in this issue, so it's nice to see her suddenly become an integral component of Reed's plan.)

The FF use their Pogo Plane to draw the Super-Skrull out to Crater Island for the final battle. It's there that he unleashes his hidden power: a hypnotic glare that seems to rob everyone of their strength and will. He makes short work of the men, but Sue, invisible, jumps the Super-Skrull from behind and slaps the jammer on him. Cut off from his powers, the rest of the team recovers, and Sue tricks him into falling into the crater the island is named for. Johnny seals him inside and they basically just leave him there.

How many Skrulls does that make walking around the planet now?

Of course, this one's trapped in a deep crater on a remote rock in the ocean, but I can't wait to see what happens when he breaks out of there. (According to Marvel Wiki, I only have to wait... 14 issues? Aw, man!)

Another excellent issue in a long run of quality comic book storytelling!

Stray observations:

:: The Thing sent away for a Mouseketeers pin when no one was looking. You ol' softie.

:: Reed and Sue take off to Waikiki for a while for a real vacation in their passenger ICBM. The dialogue in this panel is priceless.

He's henpecked, you see.

:: "Boy, it must be a gas workin' in a place with all these chicks!" I can tell Johnny's never worked retail before. It's like how now I always feel bad when I hear a young person say they want to work at a bookstore because they "love books." Oh, you poor thing...

:: Interesting moment when the crowd in the store is mobbing the FF: Sue turns invisible, but her designer dress does not. Reed and Johnny use their powers and don't ruin their clothes, so they must pretty much be always wearing clothes made of unstable molecules, but Sue wears a lot of couture. I think that's a neat detail, and nicely paid attention to by Kirby and Ayers.

:: When the Super-Skrull lands in Times Square, right away someone thinks it's an advertising stunt. This must have been a golden age for advertising stunts. (And hauntings, considering how often Sue does anything and people think a place must be haunted.)

:: In the letter column, Stan Lee gives Steve Ditko the credit for creating the corner boxes on the Marvel covers. Paul B. Weinstein of Portsmouth, Ohio, would like more recognition of Marvel's Westerns (particularly Two-Gun Kid, which is a very good series). Dick Tedor of Lake Bluff, Illinois, wonders how Sue Storm could be so attracted to the "gremlin-like" Namor. Robert Caldwell of Peekskill, New York, doesn't care for the Red Ghost or the proliferation of cliche commie villains (I agree). Steve Sough of Findlay, Ohio, is annoyed by the letters which point out simple errors in the comics... if he thinks that's tiresome, I wonder what he thinks of the internet!

The letter column is also starting to become a home for the praise of other Marvel comics that don't have their own letter columns: Tom Jones of Aberdeen, Maryland, prefers Thor to the Fantastic Four and loves Loki, while Anthony Corda of Flushing, New York, thinks Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos is the best war book out there (I agree).

And Alan Wheeler of Oakland, California, says what we're all thinking about Marvel's books: "NOT ENOUGH GIRLS." What's with all of the sausage, Stan?

The last letter in this column is from Ron Foss himself! That's some fandom history, for you. Read a bit about Foss here. There's also a mention from Stan that an FF fan club will begin publishing a fanzine; he name-checks Fred Bronson as the editor, and you can read all about Bronson here. (He even wrote for Star Trek!)

:: In addition to teasing the FF and Strange Tales annuals, and the first issues of The Avengers and The X-Men, Stan also mentions that Reed Richards will make a brief appearance in Sgt. Fury #3. We'll get to that after the next one.

Speaking of which: be here next time when Thor faces Merlin, because why not?

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