Sunday, October 7, 2012

Worst-Kept Secret EVER


Before the Fantastic Four were world-famous celebrities, they were pretty much in hiding. That was mostly thanks to the Skrulls, who impersonated them shortly after they became the FF in order to discredit the group and turn humanity against them as a prelude to invasion. It was a crucial point for the budding "team." Just when they were trying to get their bearings, they were also just trying to get along with each other, fending off the Thing's bitter and downright hostile temperament at every turn. It probably didn't help matters that Reed, Sue, and Johnny were always calling him "Thing," even in casual gatherings--though Ben had only himself to thank for getting that particular ball rolling when he declared at the group's formation that "I ain't Ben anymore--I'm what Susan called me--The Thing!!"

So in their beginning days, the Thing was proving to be a two-fold threat--not only to the other three, but to mankind itself:



Fortunately, trouble seemed to find the FF frequently--and as a result, Ben found a lot of release for his anger, and in the process began to feel like part of this new team (though it certainly didn't happen overnight).

Once the FF foiled the Skrull plot, and proved to the military that they'd been impersonated, they began growing into their celebrity status. But far from exploding onto the New York scene, they "appeared" only when there was a threat to be dealt with. Their famous landmark of the Baxter Building was at first their "secret headquarters," perhaps so named to elevate their status in the minds of readers who might still be drawn to the idea of unknowingly having super-powered heroes in their midst. Also, the authorities weren't exactly ready to hand them the keys to the city.

Funny thing about the Baxter Building--there was no preamble to its appearance. The group simply stopped meeting at Reed's apartment, and began operating out of the Baxter. Reed even had the dough to buy the tower--not to mention stocking it with a ton of hardware. And all under the noses of the public and the military:



Here's the first cut-away of the Baxter. This probably felt like an episode of The Real World to readers, at this first glimpse of a fully-stocked "home" that the team just starts living in:



The pretense of secrecy is abandoned, though, after Doctor Doom attacks. I suppose having a huge electrified net dropped over your secret tower headquarters would throw a spotlight on the people actually living in that tower. So in the following issue, the jig is up:



And we get a more expanded cut-away:


Jeez, it looks like Reed's doing pretty well on the financial front.
How much do you think a freakin' missile runs?


In the first FF annual, artist Jack Kirby finally takes the gloves off and presents the definitive (to that point) cut-away of the Baxter, with somewhat more detail:



Of course the schematics have gone through countless revisions, given how this building has seen its share of rubble in its day--and even being entirely replaced at one point (its replacement constructed in outer space--don't ask me to get into that). But this earlier version looks well thought out. I like how the living quarters and other personal areas have been moved to the tower's first floor, since any enemy aircraft or flying foe(s) will likely seek entrance from the roof. (Also if you live there, you're generally going to want your first stop off the elevator to be the living areas.) You've also got all the labs on one floor, which is pretty convenient--though I don't know why the photo analysis lab would be three floors up, with all the aircraft. (I suppose it was to put it within easy analysis reach of the observatory.) I might have put communications on the same floor as the conference areas; but I like how all the supply and maintenance areas are just one floor below the aircraft.

And at least now we know why Sue usually makes a fuss about being left behind at headquarters when the other three go off on missions. How would you like to have your room right next to a missile's blast-off silo?

But when Franklin was born, he got the short end of the straw in that respect, in this cutaway created 15 years later:



At least it looks like Reed got a little more enviro-friendly with that rocket exhaust.

But let's take a look at one last update, about fifty issues later:



The hydraulics for the observatory are a brilliant addition, explaining all the "now you see it, now you don't" instances of the structure on the rooftop. But it looks like Reed loses green points by ditching the missile's decon devices and venting the exhaust into the earth's crust.

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