Saturday, July 05, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #21

"The Hate-Monger!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(December 1963)

21 issues in, and the Fantastic Four can still be incredibly unstable. Tensions are always running high, and flare-ups occur easily. This issue ignites those tensions with a little help from the Hate-Monger.

The Hate-Monger is holding a rally in New York, which steams Ben so much that he's literally shaking the Baxter Building with how hard he's punching that gigantic steel punching bag of his. (Once again, I really hope the FF just rent that entire building. I can not imagine what it's like to have an office or apartment there.) The Hate-Monger dresses like some kind of medieval Klansman and has followers who look like Nazis with torches. He's railing about how America needs to drive out foreigners, which the FF call out as an un-American sentiment. Ben gets so mad he trashes Hate-Monger's grandstand.

But the Hate-Monger blasts the FF with his hate-ray, and those tensions leap to the top and the Four turn on each other. Ben and Reed particularly have a lot of buried resentment, I assume stemming from the accident that gave them their powers. They go at each other instantly, though Sue and Johnny don't slack, either. They're all fighting each other at once, which culminates in Ben literally tying Reed to a fire hydrant and then stretching him back like a rubber band, planning on using Reed's body to slingshot Johnny into the air and probably all the way to Newark, except that Sue unties Reed and lets him snap back into Ben, besting all three of the men before they all go their separate ways.

Reed heads back to the Baxter Building and finds his old war buddy, Nick Fury, waiting to see him. Just as Reed appeared in Sgt. Fury #3, Fury's here to cement the connection of that comic to the modern Marvel Universe. In fact, there's even a callback to one of the panels I particularly liked in that issue.

Nick Fury is with the CIA, and that's why he's come to see Reed. Apparently the US government is trying to aid a democracy in South America, the Republic of San Gusto, but now there's a revolution. Looks like, through Fury, Uncle Sam is calling on the Fantastic Four to help protect the democratic government. Boy, this is really of its time, isn't it? Fury tells us the government has been "pouring billions into San Gusto to make it a showplace of democracy," and immediately I wondered if we destabilized a regime, armed rebels to topple it, and are now trying to hold out against insurgents.

Reed heads off to San Gusto alone, while Fury stays behind to egg the others into going after Reed. Everyone's still feeling the effects of the hate-ray. It becomes a race to San Gusto; Reed in the pogo plane, Fury and the others in the passenger ICBM, and the Hate-Monger in a sub-surface missile that Stan assures us is totally possible.

There's some great stuff with Reed fighting rebels (including, as always, the guy who thinks things are haunted), and then he's captured by the Hate-Monger. He's been bouncing his hate-ray off the moon, and plans to bathe the entire world in it in. Apparently, this little coup in San Gusto is a test run for the Hate-Monger, much like the Spanish Civil War was a test run for Hitler.

Luckily, Fury and the rest of the FF show up, and we even get one of these:

WAH-HOO!

The FF get pills that cure their hate-ray exposure (just go with it), and Sue grabs the Hate-Monger, messing up his shot so that he blasts his own men in the hate-ray; the rebels then turn on the Hate-Monger and gun him down.

Now, the cover of this issue promises a bombshell shocker and asks us not to reveal this issue's big twist, but since it's been 51 years, I'm going to let the cat out of the bag.

Here's the secret identity of the Hate-Monger, true believers.

Reed is quick to say that we can never know if this was the real Adolf Hitler, or one of the many doubles he supposedly had. But the symbolism is pretty powerful. I feel like a lesser comic would make this reveal feel cheap, but coming from WWII vets Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and with Nick Fury in the room, and the fact that this issue only appeared a mere 18 years after Hitler's death, this story earns it. They're using Hitler--and Hitler in a Klan hood, basically--as the ultimate symbol of hate. Think about what was happening in America in 1963. Not only was the Vietnam War ramping up, but here at home, George Wallace was elected governor of Alabama on a pro-segregation platform. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing happened not long after this issue hit the stands. And soon after that, President Kennedy was assassinated. That summer, Medgar Evers was murdered.

So here, Stan and Jack aren't just spinning an exciting yarn. They're pointedly saying that we're keeping Hitler alive by engaging in hatred at home.


Stray notes:

:: During some downtime, Johnny throws flaming darts at a picture of Spider-Man, while Sue tries on wigs and imagines being a movie star. (Though, if you remember, she did try that once and didn't like it at all.) "If they ever want to film a sequel to Cleopatra and Liz Taylor is too busy..."

:: I can't tell if Sue got a new 'do, or if it's just the difference in George Roussos' inking.

Either way, looking sharp. I like that her hair changes like, you know, a person's.

:: I love that Nick Fury is introduced to us by brawling with security in the Baxter Building. You just can't take the rowdy out of that guy. Also, no eye patch yet. Not sure when that comes in.

:: I wonder what every nation thinks whenever the Fantastic Four launch that ICBM. That's got to be stressful, right?

:: In the letter column, Stan reproduces some glowing words from the South African fanzine The Komix, Jerise Newton of Plocerville, California, wants Thor to be more like the original mythological god, and Stan plays off a complaint about the story titles not always matching the story title advertised on the cover with "What OTHER mags give you TWO titles for the price of one?" Stan also quips (to Paul Moslander, moderator of The World of Comics) that Vince Edwards, TV's Dr. Ben Casey, could play Dr. Strange, since both men never smile. Meanwhile Mrs. P. Piccirillo, a 53 year-old grandmother (of 13 grandchildren!), is lovingly named Marvel's oldest fan (in answer to a 31 year-old man who felt maybe he was too old to be into comics), and Don Markstein (of Toonepedia) praises Marvels' never-mentioned Western comics (Stan jokes that he can't remember the names of any besides Two Gun Kid).

Stan also plugs GB Love's Rocket Blast zine, promises more Dr. Strange, promises new powers for Invisible Girl in the next issue, thanks the FF fan clubs out there, and pushes a couple of humor mags he's written (You Don't Say! and More You Don't Say!).

This was a great issue of Fantastic Four, and a great issue to have as my 100th Marvels post. Just because why not, I'm going to do what I did back in my 50th and give you my 20 favorite Marvel stories. That time, I gave you my favorite 20 so far. This time, here are my favorite 20 since then! So, from the last 50 of these posts, here we go:

1. "Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!" (Fantastic Four Annual #1)
2. "Nothing Can Stop the Sandman" (Amazing Spider-Man #4)
3. "Seven Against the Nazis!" (Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1)
4. "Spider-Man Versus Doctor Octopus" (Amazing Spider-Man #3)
5. "The Coming of the Avengers!" (Avengers #1)
6. "Face-to-Face with... the Lizard!" (Amazing Spider-Man #6)
7. "A Skrull Walks Among Us!" (Fantastic Four #18)
8. "Defeated by Doctor Doom!" (Fantastic Four #17)
9. "Tales of Asgard" (Journey Into Mystery #97)
10. "Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!" (Strange Tales #110)
11. "The Hate-Monger!" (Fantastic Four #21)
12. "The Return of the Vulture" (Amazing Spider-Man #7)
13. "7 Doomed Men!" (Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #2)
14. "Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!" (Amazing Spider-Man #5)
15. "The Human Torch Meets... Captain America" (Strange Tales #114)
16. "The Space Phantom" (Avengers #2)
17. "The Micro-World of Doctor Doom" (Fantastic Four #16)
18. "Tales of Asgard: Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants" (Journey Into Mystery #98)
19. "The Creature from Kosmos!" (Tales to Astonish #44)
20. "Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo" (Strange Tales #111)

Yeah, I'm digging Spider-Man just as much as the FF now. Those two are still the strongest, and Fantastic Four still feels like the leader of the Marvel Universe. Let's see what comes in the next 50 issues! Let's start with the next comic up...

Next Marvels: Thor meets the most dramatic super-foe of the year! Well, that's what the cover says, anyway...

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