Friday, March 14, 2014

A Team And Its Toys

Back in the day--that is to say, before GPS, cell phones, or, for that matter, the Internet--part of the fun of reading Fantastic Four was in seeing all of the incredible gadgets and machinery that sprung from the mind of Reed Richards (with Johnny Storm pitching in his own mechanical skills on occasion). The FF's gadgets were almost like the FF's fifth member--important to their operation as a team, and just as essential as the Baxter Building itself.

Of course, Reed got his inspiration from artist Jack Kirby for the FF's first one-hundred issues, and then it fell to other artists to carry on the tradition. In time, we'd see innovations like HERBIE, which in a way was Reed's own deadly Ultron (though through no real fault of his own). And given the wear and tear (especially the tear) the FF would put the Baxter Building through, a device like "Auntie" would earn its keep:

(I really think Auntie should be available on Amazon. Just sayin'.)

But it was the book's Silver Age stories which had groundbreaking revelations in technology that at the time could only be imagined. Which made for a good match; after all, if you had super-powered people, it added to the excitement to see devices and equipment that could leave you equally wide-eyed.

(Hey, this was years ahead of card swipes!)

In Fantastic Four, it was the Fantasti-Car that led the way, getting its debut in issue #3 as little more than a four-compartment hover/carrier, though Johnny and Ben would improve on that design (as well as adding much more bulk) a few months later:

After Kirby left the book, artist John Romita would slim down the car with a more sleek design. When John Buscema came aboard as artist, he would trim the car down further, leaving it with a very basic look (which Kirby also dabbled with):

Though at times it seemed to resemble something of a flying tube:

Reed's jet cycle, another team transport vehicle, seemed like an attempt to keep fans interested by giving them a more contemporary and "souped up" way for the FF to get to and from their destinations, though to me it was one of Kirby's clunkier-looking designs:

At times, Reed would modify an already existing design, with always interesting results:

The FF's "pogo plane," despite its unusual name, had a fairly basic design for an aircraft. At one time it even had a propeller:

But later, it was modified and given a little more use, edging out the jet cycle as the FF's mode of transport when the Fantasti-Car wasn't practical. Its "pogo" description seems to come from its ability to quickly take off vertically, and then rapidly ascend to a point where it can then arc back down to its destination:

That function would be similar to (and certainly less expensive than) the FF's NASA missile, which didn't see much use to justify its custom-built silo in the Baxter Building. The missile seemed built for missions which were long-range, or which required the FF to get to their destination within minutes. But given that we're talking about plunking down some serious change to use a booster rocket, it's probably no wonder that its use was sparse:

While its maneuverability was limited:

And I doubt NASA took kindly to the Torch using it to make a trip to the Himalayas to see his girlfriend, to say nothing of its destruction:

Frankly, I don't know where Reed found the free time to equip the FF with all of these incredible inventions, to say nothing of conducting his own research and projects. I guess it was no surprise to hear Sue complain about Reed's priorities all the time...

...though it's funny how she'd occasionally let that slide.


Colin Jones said...

Surely the biggest mystery is not where Reed found the time but where did the money come from to pay for it all? No mention was ever made of the FF's source of income and yet they own a sky-scraper and can afford to build all these super hi-tech gizmos which must cost a fortune - NASA spends billions on their spacecraft so the FF's gadgetry must be far more expensive as it's way more advanced! Reed would have to be richer than Bill Gates to even begin to afford it.

Anonymous said...

Did the original flying bathtub also split into four parts? I seem to remember Reed and Sue using it when they lived in a house separate from the Baxter Building. And they took the last name Benjamin as their civilian secret identity.

Colin, I will be the first to admit to not only a hazy memory but foggy as well, but from what I remember, Sue's family left her some inheritance, Reed and Ben both had college paid for by the GI bill and well as Reed's scholarships. I also seem to remember during the Lee/Kirby run that Reed did a lot of spec work as well as the odd carpentry job. He holds the patent on most if not all his inventions but licenses them out quite regularly. And if he does the contract work, he can always throw in a couple of extra bolts, widgets, tubes of Formula X and various other sundries.

The Prowler (still wading through Enron's books).

Anonymous said...

Yes, it did seem like Susan Storm was always complaining back in the early days.

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