Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Invisible Fifth Wheel

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


Fantastic Four #100

There were a number of different routes writer Stan Lee could have gone with the one-hundredth issue of Fantastic Four. I don't say that to imply that this big battle issue with, as the cover quotes, "Villains! Villains! Villains!" was disappointing--only that, in Fantastic Four Annual #3, we've been down this road before.

With these "villains go crazy" kinds of issues, there's little to no room left for the kind of character interplay which is one of the FF's strengths. Since issue #95, that focus on characterization had been noticeably absent. In fact, the dialogue--and development--between these characters had been sparse, beginning around the time when Crystal, an Inhuman and Johnny's girlfriend, officially joined the team while Sue (the Invisible Girl) was on maternity leave. I elaborate on Crystal in depth in another post; suffice to say that, with the exception of the four-part story dealing with the Thing's kidnapping to an alien world, the focus of Fantastic Four shifted to action! action! action! rather than building on the new group dynamic. Part of that is probably because, as Crystal herself tells Reed, she's already experienced in the use of her power, and wouldn't need a breaking-in period--so Lee, in effect, plugs her into the team as the new distaff member and just goes with it.

Sue's absence, though, is felt over the next seven months of publication (though that's only seven issues), and Lee abruptly ends her leave of absence--ironically plugging her back into the team right in the middle of the FF's battle with Dr. Doom in Latveria. And if you thought the group's dynamic was awkward before, it was now downright cumbersome. If it weren't for Sue's picture in the artwork, you'd hardly feel her presence on the team. Her interplay with Reed, Ben, and Johnny, once a constant, is dialed back significantly; in fact, the same can be said for her dialogue in general. And thanks to the spiked action in the stories, and Crystal still doing most of the heavy lifting in regard to being the team's acting fourth member, there's not much room to deal Sue in.

So with the arrival of the book's one-hundredth issue--an issue which should be celebrating and highlighting the Fantastic Four as we have come to know them in the majority of the book's run--we have a very different group at this milestone. In the past few issues, the team has hardly had time to catch its breath before a new threat arises--yet none of those threats draws them together and gives us a sense of them as a close-knit team. And that's largely due to the fact that Sue, as a mother, interacts with the FF at far less a level than she ever has. Apparently, Lee sees motherhood as her primary role now. Even when Crystal is forced to leave the team for the Great Refuge for a few issues, it's Ben, Johnny, and Reed who are, for all intents and purposes, the Fantastic Four. It's their camaraderie we experience, even when Sue is fully fit to stand by their side.

Consequently, with Crystal's return by issue #100, Sue is all but fighting in the background--with Crystal, in effect, acting as her stand-in. And with a powerhouse like Crystal, who needs the Invisible Girl? Just look at how she blows away an entire attacking army, the Sub-Mariner and the Super Skrull included:

Sue has her moments in the fight--but Reed's words in the last panel do a good job of telling you where Lee's priorities are in terms of her contribution to this issue.

Not enough for you? How about here, where Reed tells only Sue to take cover when the Red Ghost's super apes and the Frightful Four attack. Meanwhile, Crystal all but takes out all these villains by herself:

A couple of significant things happen after Fantastic Four #100, which perhaps leave more of an impression on readers than the actual publication of the comic's 100th issue. First, after two more issues, Jack Kirby--the artist who created and had drawn the FF since issue #1--leaves both this book and several others he draws, when he departs Marvel for DC Comics. Two issues after that, Crystal develops an unforeseen illness--a lack of resistance to our pollution levels--that forces her return to the Great Refuge. Interestingly enough, Sue's participation in the book spikes considerably in the very same issue--though with fill-in artist John Romita's departure after issue #106, she's once again pushed to staying behind on missions and whisking son Franklin to safety (with one or two exceptions, e.g. the Over-Mind's bid for conquest). With writer Roy Thomas's arrival in issue #126, perhaps we'd again see Sue--robbed of her place in the spotlight in Fantastic Four's centennial issue--be an active force in helping the title to once again live up to the full potential of its name.

Have a look at the changes to this issue's cover by artist Alan Kupperberg!


Anonymous said...

You are so right about Crystal. She so outshined the Invisible Girl in FF #100, plus when she defeated the Wizard in FF #81, that Crystal should have become the full-time female member of the Fantastic Four and the Invisible Girl should have been made a part-time FF member.

dbutler16 said...

Issues #100 does look like The Crystal Show from the images here. But hey, at least Stan finally gave us a powerful female hero who actually did something.