Monday, September 16, 2013

Welcome Back, Mr. Fantastic

I don't know how you've been able to bear the suspense of how we left things with the Fantastic Four in Part 1 of a two-part story where New York was being menaced by a mysterious monster roaming the streets, and Reed was left to make a fateful choice. We're going to pick things up right where we left off--and just in case you need a brief recap, scripter Stan Lee and artist John Romita are way ahead of you with a great page 1 mashup of the prior issue's cliffhanger:

If you're looking for Crystal--well, let me stop you right there and make a bold assertion: no one looks for Crystal. In fact, I'd bet my original copies of these two issues that there wasn't one reader in 1970 who opened a copy of Fantastic Four hoping they'd see Crystal lining up with the FF in a battle. So in Part 1, while all the craziness in the streets was going down, Lee finally bowed to the roar of FF fandom and had Crystal make her exit from the team. Johnny will almost certainly mope about it for a few issues--but in Part 2 of this particular story, Reed's going to keep him too busy trying to save their mutual friend's life.

So you're about to dive into a 100%, accept-no-substitutes Fantastic Four story after a drought of over two years, with this team pulling it together in full crisis mode. That is, assuming Johnny is able to save the life of the Thing, and Reed gets to his wife's side in time. And through it all, we may finally learn:

As I noted last time, this story is Romita's swan song on this book--and in Part 2, inked by long-time FF finisher Joe Sinnott, his work is absolutely sterling. John Verpoorten did a decent job with Romita's pencils in the prior issue, but his inking simply carried out the letter of the job--he finished the work, while adding little to no style to distinguish himself. With Sinnott taking the finishing reins on this issue, Romita's work comes to dazzling life, making it a fine cap to his brief run on Fantastic Four.

As for the story itself, you'll find that it's one where Mr. Fantastic shines and is, well, fantastic. Reed is every inch the team leader here. Decisive, quick-thinking, and take-charge, he manages all aspects of the story's crises like a juggler pumped up with adrenalin. Were the Avengers short a Chairman, Reed as written by Stan Lee would have that team snapping to at both his decisions and his initiative.

Look how, in just three panels, he whips up a solution for the Thing's situation, while still dealing in and depending on Johnny to actually make the plan work:

My head is still spinning from all that. But as Johnny said, it is all up to him, and the drama is heightened:

I don't think I've ever seen Johnny's power to absorb heat used to this extent before--certainly nothing that brought him to his knee. And just look how beautifully Romita handles the scene.

Though I'm sorry to say Johnny isn't the only FF member taking a fall right about now:

But just then, Reed shows up to (a) save the day, (b) assess the situation, and (c) take charge of everything. The man's a dynamo:

Remember how great this team was when Reed actually used his stretching abilities in battle with the FF? But now it's time to find out more about Dr. Rambow, who's been mysteriously tagging along throughout this crisis and has been so insistent that this entity not come to any harm. But Reed Richards is now officially hell on wheels, so things aren't going to stay a mystery for long:

And finally, the good doctor spills the beans--that this "phenomenon" is actually his son Larry, who was part of a tragic experiment:

But Reed has another little problem falling his way--the plummeting Human Torch, who is rapidly approaching the ground and can't halt his descent. Reed springs into action (again using his stretching powers--I just may faint), drawing the mutated Larry's fire while also rallying his teammate and brother-in-law:

I have no idea how Reed thinks the Torch can hear him at that altitude, especially considering how noisy a city New York is in the first place. In fact, I'll just go ahead and say it: it's impossible. Especially since we learned that proximity with the monster prevents the FF's communication device from working. But this is Stan Lee, and we just go with the impossible:

Once Johnny rejoins the group, Reed sends him off with Rambow to retrieve a fail-safe device from Rambow's lab which will hopefully turn Larry back to normal. In the meantime, Reed has to keep Larry in place, and--I still can't bring myself to believe it--stretches AGAIN:

Sorry, I must have blacked out for a minute. Where were we? Ah. Rambow is back with his device, and Reed adjusts its settings before the stress from his contact with Larry's energy renders him unconscious. And so Rambow crosses his fingers and throws the switch:

So the story comes to an end, and what a ride it's been. We got a happy ending for Larry and his father, all things considered--but the FF still isn't out of the woods yet, as Reed, Johnny, and Sue race back to their headquarters to see to the Thing. Artist John Buscema comes aboard with that next issue, so we know the team will be in good hands--but it's crystal clear how much Romita's work on the book has inspired Lee, and I have to confess to wishing that Romita had spent about another year on Fantastic Four with Sinnott, just to see the amazing stack of issues that would have been the result.

Fantastic Four #106

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


karl said...

Reed is an AMAZING leader in this story...absolutely stunning, the way he takes charge and kicks ass the way he does.
What a contrast to todays Reed, who lets himself get pushed around by his bratty daughter and overruled by everyone.
I wish THIS Reed was still around.

dbutler16 said...

You're right, it is great when Reed actually uses his stretching power. And yes, he's a great leader in this issue. We don't always see that from putative group leaders in comics.

Kari, that's why I'm glad I don't read new comics.

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