Friday, December 19, 2014

Follow The Leader

By now it's probably easy to dismiss an invasion of the surface world by the forces of Atlantis, given all the times that it's really amounted to little more than brief incursions that ran out of steam for one reason or another. (Though in 1941, Namor was on the verge of actually declaring victory.) But in late 1970, there were still twists to be found in the concept. After artist Jack Kirby left his long-time FF gig (as well as Marvel Comics itself), Atlantis launched yet another invasion--only this time, through a series of careful manipulations, look who's calling the shots:

Yes--this time, Magneto commands the Atlantean military machine, supplementing it with his own magnetic powers. Magneto makes his move in Fantastic Four #103, my first FF issue ever--and now it's time for the exciting conclusion, as the FF and the Sub-Mariner combine forces to find:

With Magneto holding the lady Dorma and Sue Richards captive, he effectively ties the hands of both Namor and the FF, at least for the time being. Until they come up with some sort of plan, they're helpless to watch Magneto's advance, using Namor's own forces and armament:

It's something of a stretch for Namor's troops to go along with being led by Magneto, who, up until this time, appeared to be only a guest of the Sub-Mariner's without any privileges of command given to him. The story depends a great deal on Namor having launched the invasion (due to provocation set in motion by Magneto), and Magneto subsequently relying on that momentum to take command of Namor's troops while Namor is occupied with battling the FF--even though word must have gotten out about Magneto taking Dorma captive in order to gain the upper hand. Frankly, I can't see the Atlanteans standing still for either Dorma's capture or this outsider's power play; in fact, they don't seem to have any second thoughts at all as to who's leading them into battle or giving their allegiance to Magneto.

So it's only appropriate that Namor almost immediately refuses to let this go on any further. Reed, on the other hand, with the hostages in mind, sees a better way for Namor to act:

With Namor pretending to be in alliance with Magneto, it's not winning the Sub-Mariner any friends in Washington--or among New Yorkers, who are all too familiar with Namor's attacks on their city:

(Nixon's parting comment is bound to raise an eyebrow with readers, with the U.S. still mired in the Vietnam War. "Peace with honor" is still a little over two years away at this point.)

Meanwhile, one of Magneto's two hostages has powers of her own, and she goads Magneto into freeing her so that she can make an escape attempt:

In ground we've covered before, it goes without saying that, with Stan Lee scripting this tale, Sue is still prevented from using her power in ways that would demonstrate her resourcefulness when the rest of the FF isn't around to run interference for her. For instance, nothing is really stopping her from freeing herself, or from enclosing both herself and Dorma in her force field if she wants to go that route (or, for that matter, trapping Magneto in her field). Obviously the story couldn't have gotten away with her being content to remain a captive without some sort of attempt to take the initiative; but, eventually, she's checked by the same thing that Namor is--Dorma's safety.

With Magneto now reasonably safe from military reprisal by placing himself in a heavy population center like New York City (gosh, has the military ever heard of a sniper?), all that's left on his plate is to secure the FF's public cooperation, as he has Namor's. Or has he?

Namor's curious comment about the FF is really only to set up the story's climax--otherwise, Magneto would have questioned him then and there as to what he meant by that crack. In his earlier capitulation to Magneto, Namor gave no indication whatsoever that he would attack Magneto in concert with an appearance by the FF--only that he would turn on Magneto if Dorma were harmed. Here, the distinction seems geared to pivot the story toward its ending.

At the Baxter Building, Reed has been working on a plan to strike back at Magneto--and with his work still unfinished, it's the perfect opportunity for Lee and artist John Romita to give FF fans some panels of their heroes doing something, even if it's only defending themselves against Atlantean attempts to capture them:

And so, with only three pages to go in the issue, the story has several things to accomplish: defeat Magneto, prevent the Atlanteans from helping him, have Namor involved in some way, and cancel the invasion, all with a minimum of fighting. In the case of Namor and the Atlanteans, both are dealt with in just one panel, as Crystal takes position as a distraction to Magneto:

Granted, Namor's shouted command is nothing you can easily ignore--but these men have clearly demonstrated their loyalty to Magneto, and it's difficult to believe that Namor can just shift that loyalty back to himself with no indication of what direction he'll now lead them in, particularly when it looks like he's following the FF's lead. We have to assume that Crystal's little elemental show provides enough distraction for the FF to make their play without the soldiers interfering. And make it they do:

And before you know it--certainly before the Atlanteans know it, since their heads must be spinning by this point--this invasion is history:

You'd think the military (or certainly the X-Men) would have had plenty of opportunities to use Reed's containment cone against Magneto in the many times he's been a threat since this incident. In any case, the story leaves adequate room for Lee's trademark closing that takes humanity's prejudices to task, which Namor began before punting to the FF:

The invasion may be over, with Magneto on his way to the hoosegow and Reed busy dropping the word "brother" all over the place--but if that story promo in the final panel has you curious, you only need to turn the page!

Fantastic Four #104

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Romita
Inks: John Verpoorten
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

I first read this story in Marvel UK's 'The Titans' #43 in August 1976 - The Titans was printed"sideways" in landscape form and only lasted for 58 issues but the FF dominated it from #27-52. Anyway, I was going to mention that Crystal was almost at the end of her time with the FF but I see it's covered in the 'Monster In The Streets' link - did a million readers really want Crystal gone, I really liked her and thought she was bundled out of the FF with undignified haste. One thing I never understood - if Crystal was affected by the pollution of the outside world (that took a long time to kick in !!) then how was her sister, Medusa, not affected when she was in the FF a few years later. Perhaps this was explained or perhaps she'd built up a resistance...?

david_b said...

I must confess, I haven't picked up any Romita FF issues I've read, I just didn't like his take at all, far preferring Big John's eventual pencils...

But this issue's actually got some splendid art. He does draw the Thing well, which isn't an easy task at all. I may have to pick it up. Currently, my FF collection stops at ish 100 and picks up again around ish 114..

Great post.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, Medusa covered that base herself, when she formally joined the FF at the end of the Omega crisis. She had indeed developed an immunity.

David, you might give the "Monster In The Streets" story in the following two issues a try--Romita is joined by inker Joe Sinnott in part 2 of that story, and the result is pretty sensational!

Anonymous said...

Thanks CF - I must have read that and completely forgotten about it :)