Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Return of the Monster!

In mid-1972, Stan Lee was to write his final story for Fantastic Four as well as wrap up his stint on Amazing Spider-Man. (He had already departed Mighty Thor a year earlier.) It was a changing of the guard at Marvel, and Lee was opening the door for the next generation of Marvel writers who would bring their own vision to Marvel characters during the 1970s. Of course, since Lee had ushered in the "Marvel Age of Comics" with Fantastic Four, it was only natural to be a little curious as to how he'd handle his departure from the book which played such a part in establishing such a visible role for him in the medium.

Yet, as I recall, it was all rather understated. Lee prepared a special Bulletins column in the subsequent issue, announcing promotions for Roy Thomas and Frank Giacoia, new titles coming down the pipe, and his own pivoting to development of new product; and there was a special note in the letters page that noted Lee's contribution which also served to pass the torch to new FF scripter Thomas. But readers seemed to take it all in stride--a "seamless transition" in business terms, which any publishing company would be delighted with.

Lee's final stories were certainly as seamless as they come--and in Fantastic Four, his departure tale was neither too much nor too little in terms of good, solid creative product. It even brought back a character who was somewhat unremarkable in his one-shot appearance two years prior:

At that time, the so-called "monster" was a being from another world, who operated near an ocenarium in order to secure supplies of water for his return trip. But now, Lee brings him back for a two-part story--with a provocative cover that gives new life to what had been essentially a dead-end character, combined with all the salesmanship you'd expect from a Stan Lee story:

Come on, look at all those questions--you know you've just gotta get the answers!

Of course, the obvious punch line to the question of why he's captured Sue is--why wouldn't he? She's a born hostage! If you were out to get the FF, wouldn't you go for the easy hostage first? Except that it's not that simple--the answer, that is. I certainly didn't mean to imply that taking Sue hostage isn't simplicity itself:

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Why is Sue at the hospital, wondering about Reed? And doesn't Stan know these two are married, and that she's not Sue Storm anymore?

But back to Reed.  If you had practically saved the planet from Galactus, you'd probably be falling out of your Fantasti-Car, too:

I know exactly what you're thinking--why didn't the Torch put seatbelts in this thing? For example, if my convertible could also take flight, does that mean I wouldn't need my seatbelt anymore? Anyway, it turns out Reed is suffering from exhaustion--and, after a frantic save and an even more frantic landing, the team gets him to a hospital. And just check out the V.I.P. treatment Reed gets from no less than a team of doctors and specialists:

The older guy seems like he's on retainer--I mean, with their expertise, I doubt these guys are on stand-by here. How many hospitals have equipment sitting around that specialize in stretching human limbs? Maybe these are the same people Reed consulted with when he was investigating how the cosmic rays they were exposed to were impacting on Sue's pregnancy. At any rate, I thought it was interesting to see Reed as the one being diagnosed for a change, since he's always been the one in the lab looking into a problem with someone or something.

In the meantime, Ben and the Torch are hearing reports about hospital break-ins, medical supplies being stolen and the like, with the thief being strong enough to literally break in--through a wall. Which leads to a scene which I tried repeatedly to convince myself was possible:

And I failed. Because what Ben is doing with this wall is NOT POSSIBLE. Until concrete becomes elastic, you CANNOT pull a wall together to seal a hole, Thing or no Thing. Ben Grimm is not the Molecule Man.

But what about Sue Storm Richards? After the monster makes off with her and evades the Torch's pursuit, we catch up to him after he's brought her to a cave, where he's fooled into thinking Sue has escaped by clever use of her invisibility power. And when she's left alone, she makes a break for it in earnest:

Wow! We wanted answers to our questions, and instead things have gone crazy. Reed is laid up in the hospital, now having learned of his wife's abduction but too weak and delirious to help. Ben and the Torch want to high-tail it after Sue, but don't know where she's been taken, or who her abductor is. And as for Sue, she's probably wishing she had just been content to stay a hostage:

And we still don't know the monster's secret! Who is he? What is he? Why has he captured Sue Storm Richards? I don't know if even Stan Lee can get everybody out of this one. I sure hope so, because he's only got one issue left to do it!

Fantastic Four #124

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

Well, seems another Halloween is coming up on us, and it's time to trot out the monsters. This particular version of the creature from the lost lagoon also kidnaps women, but he uses chloroform. Why didn't the Wolfman think of that?
I won't spoil the ending, being the nice guy I am, but this is not the F.F.s most dangerous foe. Still, wonderful art by Big John Buscema here. Kinda makes up for the lackluster writing during this period. Just like on Thor.

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

the art really is fantastic- that's FUN

Anonymous said...

Poor Sue Storm is a victim yet again here! Stan really loved placing Sue in dangerous situations. Still, this issue does have a real classic cliffhanger ending.