Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Probe First, Ask Questions Later


Since we recently wrapped up the conflict involving the Fantastic Four, the Sub-Mariner, and Magneto, let's have a look at the cover from the issue beginning that arc, alongside its counterpart in Marvel's FF reprint mag, Marvel's Greatest Comics, and see what changes took place between 1970 and 1979:



The first thing that probably jumps out at you (if you don't count the masthead differences) is that the viewscreen monitoring Namor in Atlantis is now in monochrome, which may or may not be an improvement. There's little question that the addition of color in the original brings the cover more to life and would make it more noticeable on the sales rack; but with the screen's overall size reduced in proportion, perhaps the need was felt to make it definitely appear to be a viewscreen, rather than Atlantean forces charging them from the next room (which, given the word balloons and the 3D aspect of the original, may not have been entirely clear to begin with).

The removal of the word balloons makes the cover much more dependent on its captions, particularly with the backs of the FF turned to us. The caption regarding Namor has been moved to accommodate the placement of the masthead; but in addition, its wording has been changed to instead reflect the Sub-Mariner's "savage" strength, rather than merely his "super" strength. It's anyone's guess whether the new word was chosen with Namor's solo title in mind, cancelled in late 1974 but which began sporting the word "savage" above its title for its last few issues; but for sales purposes, it's an improvement over "super," which may have simply pointed out the obvious since we're reading about comic book super-powered characters.

What these adjustments leave open to interpretation, however, is--what exactly is the Sub-Mariner doing? The posture of the FF indicates they're clearly taken aback--but why? They see Namor and the other Atlanteans up in arms--but the cover otherwise gives no indication of the reason, or how it involves the FF. On the other hand, that actually falls into place with the tone of the story. All the FF initially know is that strange magnetic disturbances are wreaking havoc with the city, and they're coming from a disturbing source:




Yes, you read that correctly--Reed is taking unilateral offensive action against a foreign nation, even though he doesn't yet have any facts beyond the disturbances' point of origin. Did he forget to pick up that hotline to Washington first? And what kind of useful information is a sonic probe supposed to give him as to what Atlantis is up to--unless it's to tell him how quickly Atlantean infrastructure will crumble when it's subjected to a high-intensity sonic wave?



And following that up with a concussion missile? Well, now we know why Namor looks furious.

So that takes care of the general impression the revised MGC cover leaves us with. As for the other changes, they're a little more subtle. Franklin's hair and clothing color have been changed, though his hair color would shift back and forth from brown to blond for at least the next 20 or so issues; and the coloring of the equipment panel and arc is now more consistent with that of machinery. The intensity of Johnny's flame seems somewhat diminished, maybe because the dunce realizes he's bursting into flame within a foot of his infant nephew. And the "This is the one you've been waiting for!" box has been removed, since the story has long since been revealed. (They probably could have gotten away with, "This is the one you've been waiting to re-read!")

All things considered, I'd have to give the nod to the original cover, as there looks to be much more happening in the scene to be interested in. I also like the wider range of color, as well as the color choices being made--the Fantastic Four title catches my eye more because of its white lettering, whereas the red coloring on the MGC cover yields little contrast with the gray machinery behind it. And are we more interested in watching a fighting-mad Sub-Mariner on "television," or a foe who looks like he's about to burst through that screen to clash with the FF? From his vantage point, I'm thinking that Franklin finds the original image greater cause for concern.

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