Tuesday, October 29, 2013



Name This Marvel Villain??

First introduced in Fantastic Four #13, Ivan Kragoff's villain name, the Red Ghost, was no reflection of his outfit here; rather, it was more a product of its time. Kragoff's appearance coincided with the back-and-forth political war going on at the time between democracies and communists (or, as various members of the FF called them, "commies" or "reds"). In fact, Kragoff's clothing (though maybe "flight suit" would be a better word for it) was originally green--so the "red" in his name could only be taken one way, given his origin.

Kragoff was, according to Reed Richards, the communists' leading space pioneer. Coincidentally, he was preparing his own space flight to the moon at the same time Reed had discovered a new form of rocket fuel that could allow the FF to accomplish what the group had originally set out to do--win the "space race," and beat the "commies" to the moon. Which, as we know by now, was to be more of a propaganda victory than anything else. But Kragoff had another more sinister goal in mind:

Kragoff's trip through the cosmic ray belt gave him the ability to become "unsolid"--and since his ship was completely unshielded, he and his three crewmates became stronger than the FF. According to him, that is. His "crewmates" on his flight were actually three apes that Kragoff had been training to operate a space ship--and the space flight turned them into "super-apes," each having a unique ability, just like the FF. The gorilla had super-strength that exceeded the Thing's; the baboon became a shape-shifter; and the orangutan became a sort of simian version of Magneto. So to say that the group, collectively, was "stronger" than the FF isn't really accurate--"different," certainly. The gorilla was really the only one of the four that had a stronger ability. I'd point out that Magneto could still be fried by a person who could generate the heat of a super-nova.

Yet the Ghost and his super apes could still give the FF plenty of trouble. Which they proceeded to do, until an amazing being shows up to spoil the party:

The Watcher's first appearance in comics is only one of this issue's "firsts." For all intents and purposes, it's the FF, not any bona fide American astronauts, who would be recorded in Earth's history as being the first to land on the moon--a curious substitution that neither Reed nor the narrative of the book touches on at all. Reed and the FF simply take off--in contrast to Kragoff, who states that he's heading to the moon to claim it for "the communist empire," which along with his resources suggests he had the backing of his government. The issue also introduces to us for the first time the "blue area" of the moon, which we would later learn was established by the Kree.

(Curiously, in a later story--Fantastic Four #98, which portrays the actual Apollo moon landing--the FF's achievement here as being the first manned flight to reach the moon isn't mentioned at all, obviously so as not to overshadow the actual historic event. I'd probably account for the inconsistency by proposing that Reed either was able to successfully keep his flight a secret, or otherwise came to an agreement with the government to keep his flight off the record. Either way, I don't know why he'd bother--the FF are Americans, so what does it matter? And I'd think the government would be more than a little interested in that new rocket fuel.)

To make a long story short, the Watcher decides that the two groups will have to resolve their conflict by "fighting it out" in a secluded area that he transports them to. Apparently the Watcher doesn't "watch" as well as he thought he did, since "fighting it out" is exactly what they were doing when he butted in--and you can't get more secluded than the moon, bub. Eventually, Reed develops a paralysis ray that nullifies the Ghost's power; and behind the scenes, Sue (as a hostage, of course) takes out of play some of the tools the Ghost was using to keep his apes in line, enabling them to turn on their cruel master.

If you get a chance to read this issue, the sharp-eyed among you will notice similarities between some of artist Jack Kirby's panels and those of another famous conflict between super-beings on the moon--namely, John Byrne's art on Uncanny X-Men #137, where the team faced off against the Imperial Guard. That battle, too, was under the gaze of the Watcher, whom Byrne presents to us in a pose reminiscent of his first appearance:

And speaking of the Watcher, have a look at these two visits to his abode where both Kirby and Byrne make clear that this being values his privacy:

As for the blue area of the moon, Byrne adds some nice detail to the FF's original landing site:

The Red Ghost has appeared in various Marvel comics both with and without his super-apes, though Iron Man's more contemporary villain, "the Ghost," stole his thunder a bit. With the right handling, I think Kragoff and his apes could have been on par with the U-Foes in terms of being a force to be reckoned with, given their level of power and their mixture of formidable abilities. By the way, I wonder which group here actually won that space race and got to the moon first? Maybe the Watcher would know--though I'm certainly not going to be the one to knock on his door.


Dan W said...

At first for some reason I thought it was Zarko - odd as I'm nuts on the FF and who is more nuttier than I? The Red Ape who tried to attack the team with supersimians!

Nice post mate!

Comicsfan said...

Oh, man, you were so close! Check out the rest of the post for his correct name. And don't worry about our friend Zarrko, he's already been given his due.

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