School has broken up for the Xmas holidays and I’m holed up in the library while Storm Barbara gathers her forces outside. This is the same branch from which I borrowed Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 9. The Sixties stories of which it’s comprised were reprinted in The Titans forty years ago; in the spring of 1976.
I don’t think I could read or write before I started primary school. Perhaps that’s why the comics of 1968 and 1969 made such an impression upon me; Marvel’s more than DC too.
In this trade paperback, we can divide the twelve monthly stories, running from January to December of 1969 into four arcs, where the plots rise and fall organically in a way emulated by Claremont and Byrne in their lauded X-Men years. The images I’ll post are the individual issues I owned or read at the time.
The Mark of the Madman was my second Inhumans tale and follows on from Crystal’s election as the FF’s first new member since issue one. Maximus the Mad ( whom I may have “met” in the susbsequent encounter with the Hulk has taken over the Great Refuge and wants to use a hypno-ray on Mankind. It’s interesting that Roy Thomas retroactively gives Max powers of mind control when he next takes over in Amazing Adventures- up til now he was portrayed as a scientific genius , albeit a child-like crazy one: Caligula crossed with Einstein. I loved the variety and strangeness of the Inhuman populace. Stan and Jack muddy the waters over Zorr- is he an android or an enhanced Alpha Primitive? Are the Alphas androids?
I remember, shortly after reading one of the early parts of this story, choking on a boiled sweet in primary school and Miss Morrison holding me by my ankles to dislodge it!
Within the Tortured Land is my selection when they next plan a FF movie. It’s the sequence where Kirby first apes The Prisoner. Again, a hypnotic weapon is used to strip the quartet of their powers as Doom pits them against his omnipurpose robots in a sinister experiment. It’s a tense mix of super-spy drama ( Nick Fury and SHIELD cameo) and Ruritanian fantasy. The ending is an anticlimax but we see Doom at his most expansive and majestic. Even the Commies fear him. Unfortunately, Doom’s portrait artist seems to be wearing a wig- he’s bald in 85.
A House There Was is the “nutty overgrown mushroom” which Sue selects , bizarrely, as the ideal place to bring up baby. Of course, it’s an elaborate trap by the Mole Man, at his most pathetic here and using an ultrasonic ray machine (?) to strike humanity blind. Reed almost dies in this claustrophobic tale. Ben’s anguish over Reed is set-up for the next arc…
The Skrull Takes a Slave is a space age take on Spartacus. I enjoyed the alien gladiators we meet: the Magna-Man, the Rhinogon, the Cat-man and the Primitoid. Also, with the Skrull Prohibition Era pastiche planet, it’s something of a rehearsal for In The Days of the Mob and the Chicago-Land two-parter in Kamandi. The serial, which was partially reprinted in a b/w “album” largely focuses on Ben Grimm . For years, I though I bought the “Ben Grimm, Killer” issue in Seafield, Ayr instead of Subby’s May 71 comic. Clearly, I was mistaken; it was either Thor’s showdown with Infinity or Astonishing tales 5. or both.
Super-teams can be measured by their antagonists. Of course, some of the FF’s oldest foes return here. But the plethora of robots and androids in the series began in 64 with the Kree Sentry, continued in 70-71 with the Thinker’s green android; Galactus’ Punisher; Psycho-Man’s Indestructible One; Th e Thinker’s Android Man and of course, Tomazooma.
Crystal never quite achieves an impact although she wears a beret well. Sue upstages her by saving the entire village in 86-87 and Crystal herself is a hostage in 82-83. She uses her powers in 83,87,89 and briefly in 93 but they’re described hand-wavingly vaguely as “force blasts” or “sonic waves”. While Johnny is now, increasingly, a handsome romantic lead, Ben is very much the star as the last arc attests. Perhaps these issues aren’t as inventive as the 1966-1967 period but, for me, they’re more beautiful and dramatic.
Next: Thank you, Caped Crusader
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