Monday, January 13, 2014

The Deadly Flight of the U-Foes!

Even though they eventually fizzled as a concept, I have to admit to being a little giddy when it comes to the U-Foes, a team of villains which mimicked the same origin as the Fantastic Four but lacked that team's moral scruples.

The U-Foes never quite achieved the notoreity as their sister group, the Frightful Four, though it wasn't for lack of trying. Created by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema, with assistance from Al Milgrom (costume design) and Jim Shooter (names), this group of astronauts, unlike Reed Richards and his party, came well-financed and didn't need to rely on the government for their covert space flight plans:

If you don't recall the names of any of these four characters, you're probably in good company with the rest of us. I have problems spelling "Utrecht," let alone remembering it. In fact, if someone asked you to give the individual names of the villains they became, could you? Utrecht doubtlessly had what it takes to rise to the top of the business world, and as "Vector" he was as ruthless as they come--but the Wizard could teach him a thing or two about carrying off a plan as well as giving your group a solid rep.

Still, "Waiting For The U-Foes!" is a fun little story, with obvious parallels with and deviations from the FF's origin:

And when they launch into space, all goes according to plan--if you can call exposing yourselves to cosmic radiation a reliable plan, that is:

However, Utrecht's intent to achieve a much greater level of power than the FF is brought to a halt when Bruce Banner, who has stumbled on their base and monitored the deadly effects of their mission, intervenes and aborts their flight:

Like the FF, these four also crash back to Earth--and Banner is the first to see their transformations, though he'll later be astonished that they deliberately risked death to achieve them:

Utrecht becomes Vector, who can deflect objects at will. Steel has merged with the mass of the ship to become the super-strong Ironclad, who, like the Vision, can also increase his own mass. Jimmy Darnell becomes X-Ray, something of a predecessor to the Monica Rambeau version of Captain Marvel but who instead can shift to and emit different forms of deadly radiation. His sister, Ann, has become Vapor, who can shift her state to different gaseous forms.

The four are none too pleased to discover it was Banner who aborted their flight, and take what little delight they can in demonstrating their deadly new abilities against him. And in doing so, Ironclad settles on their group name:

Yes, "this guy," they realize, was Bruce Banner, who transforms to the Hulk and gives the "U-Foes" one hell of a baptism of fire. But it's the U-Foes themselves who turn out to be their own worst enemies, when, lacking any time to train in the use of their abilities, their powers run amok and they become a deadly danger to each other:

Probably one of the easiest fights the Hulk ever had. But despite appearances, we haven't seen the last of the U-Foes--and the Hulk is definitely going to get his licks in (as well as vice versa) when they meet again.


Anonymous said...

It seemed that happened a lot in Marvel Comics, for some reason. Some guy (or in this case, three guys and a woman) would suddenly get weird super-powers and the first poor slob they started to beat up on just happened to be, of all people, Bruce Banner. Talk about your bad luck!

IADW said...

The first time I saw the U-Foes was in the pages of Darkhawk. I just instantly doug Vector's trippy design. I wonder if that has to be drawn in a specific way each time or just random - either way I'm glad they've lasted.

So many villain teams seem to disappear beneath the waves (gamma or otherwise), I'm stoked they're still swimming.

Comicsfan said...

Dan, I think it may be more like treading water at this point! :)

Anonymous said...

Ah, back when a million dollars really meant something. Look, I'm a millionaire!!! I'm holding New York City ransom for the sum of 1 Million Dollars!!!! A million dollars? I got that on me....

Were they limited to four because of the size of the rocket? I would think you'd want to stuff as many people in as you could get.....but then who'd bring the snacks and there's always someone who makes you crack a window.

The Prowler (from the old Spider-man Crawlspace).

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this first appearance of the U-Foes back when it came out on the comic book rack -- I had loved it!

I was always fond of the basic idea of the U-Foes: they had a lot of potential in terms of their powers and their costumes despite their first humiliating defeat. I also liked their gang-of-bullies approach to everyone else is never mitigated by their clear love for one another (notice how Vapor willingly sacrifices her life trying to save Vector while Vector laments his inability to save Ironclad). That they could be this devoted to each other yet STILL spiteful and petty-minded bullies at heart had been and continues to be fairly unique among comic book villains.

Most importantly, their naked greed combined with a stubbornly mundane level of individual imagination made them stand apart from the more common megalomaniacs, world conquerors, serial killers, and vengeance addicts that populated most of Marvel villaindom.

Unfortunately, no writer seemed to have any idea what to do with them, so that it quickly became tradition that every appearance ended with a humiliating loss that was more their own doing than the doing of any hero.

I don't remember ever getting to see them confront the Fantastic Four, which I would dearly have loved.

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