Monday, February 23, 2015

Battleground: The Baxter Building!

Things looked pretty bad at the end of Fantastic Four #129--or rather, the Thing looked that way, following a battle where the Frightful Four emerged triumphant against Ben Grimm and his unexpected ally, Medusa, with the lion's share of the victory going to the evil foursome's mysterious new member, the super-strong Thundra. In Part One, it seemed the FF had practically made themselves ripe for the assault which the Frightful Four would soon bring to their very doorstep. Sue Richards had angrily left FF headquarters following an argument with her husband, Reed; Johnny Storm had also left--as in, left the team, permanently, to join his girlfriend Crystal in the land of the Inhumans. And Ben would depart to pay a visit to his girlfriend, Alicia, only to walk into an ambush set by the Wizard and his cohorts.

Soon, this team would move to attack the Baxter Building itself, bolstered by the knowledge that the Torch will not be there to help oppose them. But for now, they bask in a triumph well earned, standing over the unconscious forms of both the FF's strongest member and a woman who used to be one of their own:

One of the interesting things that writer Roy Thomas picks up on in his story is the dichotomy of the evil FF in terms of their membership in this group--sharing no bond with each other to speak of, but all on the same page when it's time to take on a mission. The interaction between them when these two aspects of their makeup are in flux almost reminds you of the Masters of Evil; but while Zemo and the Wizard both kept a tight rein on their respective groups, the dissension amongst the members of the Frightful Four had a way of exploding without warning, each of its members being on a short fuse withoug the distraction of a foe to fight. And so, even on a night where everything has gone their way thus far, the addition of a headstrong new member proves to be a distraction in its own right:

Once again, back on the same page, thanks to the Wizard. And let's remember that the final caption at the end of Part One proclaimed we would see "The End of the Fantastic Four!" in this next issue. Has the time come for the Frightful Four to finally and permanently eclipse their unsuspecting counterparts?

One thing you have to hand to the Frightful Four--they don't waste time when it comes to going after their foes. The Wizard runs a taut ship, and his plans are executed by the numbers--another thing from past stories that Thomas makes good use of here. This plan begins with the Wizard presumably hacking the security lock of the FF's private elevator, and sending up the member of his team who would be best able to take Reed Richards by surprise:

(If you thought you'd finally found a Roy Thomas story that might be lacking one of his trademark pop culture references, you should have known better.)

And so the invasion of FF headquarters begins, with the Frightful Four in full plunder mode:

The Frightful Four have to be feeling good about themselves right now, having achieved their main objective without incident as well as capturing two of the Fantastic Four, one of which being their leader. With no further plan of attack at the moment, can they enjoy the fruits of their most recent victory without getting on each other's nerves? Not for long.

Someday we'll have to get the formula for the Trapster's paste, so we can analyze this stuff that eventually became a laughing stock as a reliable adhesive. Supposedly it's mega-strong, hardens almost instantly, and grows increasingly stronger--yet it's pliable enough for someone to easily remove it without becoming stuck to it in the process, nor does anyone have any trouble stepping in it and continuing on their merry way. Obviously it's been "watered down" by writers since the days when it actually had formidable adhesive properties:

Frankly, I'd much rather have seen "the Trapster" ditch his reliance on paste when he ditched his former paste-related name, since technological "traps" are far more interesting to see deployed and also make him a more deadly member of this foursome. Otherwise, he operates exactly as the Wizard tagged him--a "one-talented fool" who depends on a holstered dispenser of paste to incapacitate his enemies.

As for what's going on with those footprints, we shouldn't depend on the Sandman for information, given the peculiar panel sequence where Thomas has him realize that there's a possible new threat in the room, but shows him reacting as confused when footprints are pointed out to him--the same footprints that presumably tipped him off in the first place. Fortunately, the Sandman has attributes of more use to the Wizard:

We should bear in mind that Sue at this point in time is the Fantastic Four's Trapster, possessing many methods of using her abilities but whose formidable aspect has been watered down and kept under wraps. Her powers of invisibility are (appropriately) rarely seen; while her use of her force field powers usually takes the form of standing defensively in place within the field and thus being able to accomplish little offensively. But what's more striking in her appearance here is her sense of judgment. If you're a parent with your child in tow, and you arrive back at home and spot the Frightful Four assembled in your husband's lab, what's your first instinct? Do you (a) immediately take your child to a secure (or, failing that, safer) location before returning and acting against them? Or do you (b) keep him with you while invisibly attempting to use weaponry in the lab to attack?

Sue has obviously gone with Choice (b), and the resulting battle plays out as expected. We'll never know if Sue's defensive posture would eventually cause the Frightful Four to abandon their plans and leave the Baxter Building in frustration, because the Wizard, shock of shocks, decides not to play by the rules and threatens Franklin's life in order to end the standoff:

Another confusing panel--"Look! I've become visible again!", which should probably have read, "Stop! I've dropped my force field!" Thomas seems to be groping for ways to make this "fight" more interesting than it is, by making it appear that Sue is thinking on her feet at a level beyond what we're actually seeing. That's surely any comics writer's prerogative; though what's troublesome is the drama spilling out of Sue's last panel which comes across as more self-delusional than realistic, almost as if Sue is trying to justify her actions. Franklin is about as "safe! Safe!" as Reed is, or Ben, or Medusa--or, for that matter, Sue herself.

As for Franklin, he turns his attention to Ben, who's still unconscious--and the boy's still-unknown powers reach out to the Thing and produce a truly frightening scene to the Frightful Four:

Yet the reaction the evil FF receive from another of their members will probably have them questioning the wisdom of bringing aboard someone who seems to be a member of the Frightful Four in name only:

Yes, I know what you're thinking, as surely as if Franklin himself were trudging around in my head: If the Trapster's paste yields to an elastic man, it's time to retire this goop once and for all. Be that as it may, the battle is on!

LOL--"...a force field even the Trapster's paste can't smash!" Aside from the fact that Sue is somehow maintaining a force field around Franklin while her attention is focused on fending off attacks from the Frightful Four--as well as the fact that Medusa's attack made the Trapster drop his paste gun in the first place--you have to be incredulous at the thought of Sue having to whip up an extra-tough field to deal with a blotch of paste released from the nozzle of an adhesive gun.

But Sue is correct in one of her judgments this day--these teams are well-matched, and a straw going the wrong way could indeed give the advantage to either one. Yet when Thundra proves to be that straw, Thomas instead uses that advantage as an excuse to end the conflict altogether:

So, if I have this right: Thundra has not only downed the Thing, and upended the battle so that her comrades are released--she's also now in a position to help take on the other FF members (as well as Medusa), with the odds now being 4-3, and still the Frightful Four decide to retreat. Bookies in the area must be throwing their odds sheets into the air in sheer exasperation.

In the aftermath, though, it's time to follow up on the signals we've received during the battle that indicate another fight is brewing--the one between Sue and Reed, involving a matter of priorities:

In the heat of the moment, it's not really surprising to see Reed and Sue lump in the circumstances involving the care of Franklin with the issue of Sue's place on the team being hampered by motherhood. These are separate issues, however, as the only really pertinent matter here is: Why wasn't the effort made to remove Franklin from harm's way, by either of these parents? It's a question that Thomas sidesteps in these closing panels, in order to bring to a head the growing problem that he put into play between Sue and Reed regarding Sue's role in the FF vs. her role as Franklin's mother--yet the irony is that the issue of Franklin's safety plays a crucial part in the matter that's driving a wedge between his parents. For instance, how did Franklin enjoy that explosive shockwave generated throughout the lab by Thundra's strike? If it had proved fatal to him, would the issue have still been Sue's status on the team? Or would it instead have shifted to the core of the matter: seeing to Franklin's safety?

That said, these tense panels provide quite an ending to this story, following a battle which, all things considered, proved to be a page-turner and had some interesting twists. By the way, if you're thinking of catching that Thing/Thundra rematch which Thomas's editorial note alluded to, be my guest--but please, don't paste the messenger!

Fantastic Four #130

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek

1 comment:

dbutler16 said...

This is part of the huge gap in my FF collection, spanning from #72-157, so it's good to see some of what the FF was up to during that time.
When I think of Thundra, I automatically think Bronze Age. She just seems like one of those quintessential Bronze Age characters.