Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This One Has It All!

OR: "Pay No Attention To That Over-Mind Behind The Curtain..."

Following the incredible Thing vs. Hulk battle from mid-1971 in the pages of Fantastic Four, writer Stan Lee and artist John Buscema use the aftermath of the clash to segue us into a new saga featuring a brand-new villain--the Over-Mind, who has already begun using his power in small doses to inflame public opinion against the FF as a prelude to revealing himself and taking over the entire planet. And as was often the case with a master marketer like Lee, the issue's cover gives us the impression that we're getting a lot of bang for our hard-earned 15¢.

You almost get the feeling that Johnny Storm has been short-changed by the cover, considering "the Torch In Action!" is what we usually see from the Torch in a Fantastic Four story. You might as well replace the caption with "The Torch In Flight!", which seems to be all he's doing; but keep in mind that the Torch is on edge since the apparent death of his big buddy, the Thing, and we would indeed see evidence of that in this issue. Maybe "The Torch In Distress!" would be more accurate.

Otherwise, we're meant to take the cover at its word: "This One Has It All!" Starting with the shocking image from page one--the Thing, beaten by the Hulk at a crucial, distracting moment, and showing no sign of life to his girlfriend, and two members of his team who have arrived too late to save him.

FIRST UP: The Fate Of The Thing!

Unfortunately, grieving will have to wait, since the FF scarcely have time to catch their breath before the police move in, adamant on taking them into custody. Given the power involved in a fight between the Thing and the Hulk--and the fact that the Thing, due to the side-effects of an experiment designed to give him the ability to turn back to Ben Grimm, lashed out without being mindful of the damage to lives and property being caused (and the Hulk in a similar rampaging state as a given)--it's understandable that the public and law enforcement would want order restored and the parties involved to answer for the extensive damage that's been done. Yet for New Yorkers, who have generally been sympathetic to the FF's presence in the city, to rise up against them in so hostile a fashion is unusual, given the many other battles that have taken place in New York involving the FF. Regardless, the police have their orders--nor is Johnny inclined to back Reed up, in light of the fact that he blames Reed's misplaced sense of priorities for arriving too late to save their friend.

Yet Reed's desperation to avoid being arrested appears to be more than mere escape--but what? Maybe we'll find out, when... Mister Fantastic Fights Back!

With Sue providing their means of eluding the police, Reed is insistent that they all return to the Baxter Building with Ben's body, since he suspects there's a chance that Ben yet lives. Yet Johnny is still riding a wave of hostility toward Reed--and the angry crowds that are now up in arms outside of the Baxter Building are in the right place at the right time, as far as Johnny is concerned. Which is the cue for showing: The Torch In Action! (Sort of!)

Against his better judgment, and with encouragement from his sister, Johnny assists Reed in his last-ditch attempt to save Ben's life. Fortunately, Reed's track record of playing hunches that prove to be correct is still going strong.

The end result naturally humbles Johnny--and once he makes a heartfelt apology to Reed, everyone gathered celebrates the turn of events. Added to the good news is the welcome evidence that Ben has thrown off the side effects of his experiment--yet Ben decides to put aside this attempt at regaining his humanity. His reasoning is laudable, if confusing, given how desperate he's always been for Reed to discover a cure for his condition. Lee nevertheless abandons the issue for now, as he must in order to keep the status quo with the Thing that remains one of the reasons why readers continue to be so interested in the character. Perhaps the reader can simply conclude that Reed's procedure has proven to be an imperfect solution, given the risk that any further attempts of Ben to change his form might again bring on the dangerous shifts in personality that he experienced before.

Once Ben and Alicia depart, Johnny realizes that he's still without a significant other of his own, with Crystal having recently been forced to return to the Inhumans' Great Refuge. Frustrated, angry, and morose, he takes off to sort his thoughts, leaving Sue and Reed alone to bear witness to a grim warning as:

The Watcher Speaks! (But doesn't say a heck of a lot!)

And when Reed and Sue take off in the FF's Pogo Plane to locate Ben and Johnny in order to have all hands on deck to discuss this ominous threat (gee, maybe the FF flare gun could take care of that in a fraction of time?), they find that the Watcher isn't the only one who's babbling about an imminent threat but has no intention of sticking around to elaborate.

(Agatha is probably just miffed that she didn't rate cover space. "Agatha Harkness Is Worried!")

With such dire warnings, the last thing the FF needs is to deal with red tape--but there's still the little matter of large parts of New York City being trashed into rubble recently, and unruly crowds clamoring for the FF to be thrown under lock and key. And so a news report serves to gather the team, but to confront City Hall rather than the so-called Over-Mind.

So the Fantastic Four are hauled away in a "paddy wagon," ostensibly in order to be processed and face the charges against them. But the Mayor has other reasons for pursuing what seems to be an agenda against the FF, reasons which become clear when he pulls the virtual curtain back to reveal: The Coming Of The Over-Mind!

Those of you who remember the final battle between the Fantastic Four and the Over-Mind perhaps recall a very different threat than the subtle, hidden being pictured here, who operates here behind the scenes and whose ambitions are merely to control those in the highest positions of both the government and the military. Once the Over-Mind later becomes firmly established as a bold conqueror in this arc's climax, writer Archie Goodwin side-steps the character's initial behavior by saying that the Over-Mind only acted thus as a form of amusement, before shifting to a posture of open conquest and using his powers in earnest. We might assume that Lee had possibly not quite worked out the direction of the overall plot; we could also speculate that complications may have arisen along the way due to the company's upcoming shift to double-sized, higher-priced comics that would go into effect following the publication of the next two issues. We'll see further indications of the state of flux of this character in this issue's follow-up.


Fantastic Four #113

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Marvel's experiment with not using periods at the end of statements during this, ah, period (sorry) always kind of threw me off a bit.
It just looks funny to me!

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