Friday, September 30, 2016

"Victory!" Cries the Frightful Four!

The second appearance of the Frightful Four is often overlooked in light of their subsequent and now classic battle with their counterparts in the Fantastic Four, a final battle which had the evil FF on the brink of victory but ended in the dissolution of the original lineup of this classic team of villains for all time. Yet that second meeting was a key encounter in solidifying their threat level and cementing their status as a force to be reckoned with, however briefly. Once Madam Medusa was no longer a part of their operations, the Frightful Four had the wind taken out of its sails, going through one replacement member after another but never reclaiming its glory days. Perhaps that's one reason why its five appearances (if you're counting their brief reunions in Europe and Whisper Hill) are remembered above all others.

Yet as much as their third battle with the FF assured their standing as one of the most ruthless and outstanding villain groups in comics, it was their second battle, at an abandoned Pacific atoll where the Wizard had prepared a carefully laid trap for their enemies, that saw them follow up on their first encounter with the FF--a fight which ended in a stalemate but would lead to their total triumph just two issues later, one that even had the issue's cover declaring their victory for all to see.

Can no one stop the Frightful Four??
(I guess we know who it won't be!)

The Wizard and his band may have been lying low after their first confrontation of the Fantastic Four, but they didn't wait long before coming at the FF again--and, just as before, they mapped out a plan beforehand to assure their success. But let's backtrack a bit, as we fid the Wizard taking part in surveillance of his enemies before heading back to where his partners in crime have regrouped. As ever, the Frightful Four are a disgruntled lot, still reluctant to show deference to the Wizard and, to his mind, not properly appreciative of what he's done for them. But he'll see to it that he changes that way of thinking, by whatever means necessary.

"The Trapster," of course, is a considerable improvement over the man's former identity as Paste-Pot Pete--still retaining his trademark adhesive as his primary weapon, but adapting it to a cabled gun while adding custom, sophisticated attack devices to supplement his arsenal. That's something we might expect of the Wizard, though he's preferred to limit himself to the technology that gives him power over gravity. As for Madam Medusa, she's dispensed with the cowl she once donned in favor of a simple mask that isn't nearly as restraining to her living hair--while the shape-shifting Sandman remains as grittily deadly as ever.

Thanks to the Wizard's outburst, we can expect each of his cohorts to fall in line and follow his orders--and the first order of business for them in striking back at the FF is to proceed with the capture of Sue Storm, who, as usual, might as well have the words CAPTURE ME stamped on her forehead.

Yes, I can guess what you're thinking: it's reassuring to discover the Wizard has a fallback career as a fashion designer. Who knew??

Back at FF headquarters, the search for Sue is on, with one member of the team understandably more agitated about her whereabouts and her fate than the others--the man who only recently became engaged to her.

Meanwhile, with phase one of the Wizard's plan carried out, phase two is even now taking place on that abandoned atoll, where nuclear weapons testing was once conducted--a facility which the Wizard was only too happy to adapt to a more immediate and deadly purpose.

The Trapster and the others are begrudging in their regard for the Wizard's abilities, but it's probably obvious that even they feel fortunate to have him as one of their assets--in terms of both his genius as well as his sheer talent for the diabolical. He's also quite an effective leader, which they'd be fools not to realize.

With Sue baiting the trap, the Frightful Four head back to collect the rest of the FF and lure them to the site, where the FF will be sufficiently distracted to allow their escape. Nor is Reed at this point in any frame of mind to quibble about the circumstances of the evil FF showing up on their doorstep instead of evading the FF's search efforts.

The Wizard raises a fair point, and one that's difficult for any FF fan to swallow: the Frightful Four are outmaneuvering the FF at every turn, as well as overcoming them with contemptuous ease. The FF are in effect being led like lambs to the slaughter--and while Reed and Ben have enough experience between them to realize that the Frightful Four have a trap in mind, it seems doubtful that they've conceived the full extent to which the Wizard's deadly plan will be carried out.

The Torch's capture is added insurance for the time the Frightful Four need to make their prearranged escape--but thanks to Reed's quick thinking, there will be a slight delay in their departure, a delay the rampaging Thing plans to make as memorable as possible.

We have every right to believe that the FF will turn the tide in this fight, as they often do when their opposition holds the cards against them. But as pressed as the Frightul Four are by the FF's counter-attack, the tide turns in their favor once more when the Thing discovers Sue's location, and the FF completely forget about their foes to race to her side.

We don't see much use of Reed's stretching power in this fight; in fact, there's no reason in the world why he would choose to fend off both Medusa and the Trapster by making like George Foreman, rather than Mr. Fantastic.  Isn't this the guy who was fighting mad? Why aren't we seeing Mr. Fantastic, unleashed? With his super-powered help, perhaps this fight would have turned out differently for the FF; as it is, their oversights will cost them dearly, and provide their escaping enemies with a victory which will send shockwaves throughout criminal circles and elevate their group's status overnight.

With the final panel, we at least get a sense that the FF have somehow survived the Q-bomb's blast. But at what cost? It makes a fine teaser for the following issue--but thanks to the astonishing development that takes place in that story, the real cloud hanging over the FF's head is one they won't be allowed to acknowledge and learn to live with: the fact that the Frightful Four have defeated them. Where do they go from here? How do they put something like this behind them? They faced similar circumstances following their defeat at the hands of Dr. Doom--but due to his worldwide threat, they were able to pick themselves up and work toward bringing him down. Do they seek out the Frightful Four again? Or do they simply move on? The events of the next issue will take the matter out of their hands for now--but they'll be meeting their evil counterparts again soon enough. (Or, rather, the other way around.)

Fantastic Four #38

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Anonymous said...

Most of the superhero/villain community could have had fallback careers as fashion designers when you consider the costumes they all wore - not only did they design their own costumes but also made them (I assume). It's fascinating to see Medusa in these early FF stories when there is no hint whatsoever that she will change sides later on - she is utterly despicable (leaving the FF to die in an atomic blast is about as despicable as you can get).

Comicsfan said...

Colin, it's interesting to see where this story leaves off vis-a-vis Medusa and the changes in her character when we see her next--much more assertive, and every inch the criminal, even giving strong indications that she may at some point challenge the Wizard for leadership of the team. It's quite a step up for her, and only makes the Frightful Four more dangerous.

B Smith said...

Intersting too that Medusa kept pretty much the same costume,(or very slight variations of it) for many years after. Purple must really have been her colour, although with a fashion designer like the Wizard on team, how could she miss?

Comicsfan said...

Gosh, now that you mention it, B, there's a lot of purple going on in that group!

Anonymous said...

It is so true that the Frightful Four were at their best when Medusa was on the team. It was largely Medusa's quite easy capture of Susan Storm that led to the Fantastic Four's first defeat in issue #38. Medusa also defeated the blonde girl in their first encounter in issue #36. While their catfight in issue #41 was a draw, it was Medusa who had Trapster create a plastic bag that was impervious to the Invisible Girl's force field. Hence, Medusa still got the better of Sue for a third time. Their battle in FF #42 started out with Medusa winning, but ended with Sue getting the upper hand. However, the reverse happened in issue #43, as Sue initially took the offensive, but Medusa turned the tables and was beating Sue when Reed stopped the fight. The scorecard for Medusa's five Frightful Four issues from 1965: Madam Medusa wins 4 to 1. It is too bad that Medusa left the Frightful Four, at least for fans of the evil FF.

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