Thursday, February 19, 2015

Once More, The Frightful Four!

Before he would turn over the scripting reins to Gerry Conway, writer Roy Thomas turned in a few issues of Fantastic Four that featured some of the team's most memorable characters. (Though perhaps the Mole Man falls into that category because he was the FF's first villain, rather than any sense of interest among readers.) It stands to reason, then, that he would want to throw that spotlight on the Frightful Four, a classic villainous group we hadn't seen in the book since their ill-considered assault on Whisper Hill. Since Madam Medusa left them, the evil FF had been operating with just the Wizard, the Trapster, and the Sandman--and the lack of a fourth member continued to stick out like a sore thumb. Yet as we see on this issue's cover, that may be about to change.

We know in hindsight that the adoption of Thundra into their midst was mostly an alliance of convenience rather than a shared evil agenda. The Wizard no doubt realized the contribution Medusa had made to the group--and combined with the fact that he likely considered Thundra easy on the eyes, he probably made every effort to conscript her as his fourth member, easily accomplished by giving her the impression that the Thing was the ultimate male opponent she was seeking to prove herself against. To the Wizard, Thundra represented a gift horse in the mouth--a short-term opportunity that would allow him to crush his enemies, more than likely followed by an effort to convince her to remain with them. How that would work out, we'll never know. The Sandman obviously already provided the muscle of the group--and while there's no denying Thundra's advantage to them in that regard, she couldn't provide the balance of abilities that Medusa did.

And so the "Frightful Four" lives again--for the sake of this particular story, at least. Yet this team lineup would also end up having the Fantastic Four on the ropes--a testament to the formidable reputation of this ruthless group that Thomas remembers to bring forward from their earlier appearances.

As for the Fantastic Four--thanks to recent events, they won't be in much of a position to stand up to the challenge of their evil foes. They return exhausted by a recent encounter with the Mole Man and Tyrannus, to be followed by a shocking announcement from the Torch:

(Would somebody tell Mr. Thomas that "The Frightful Four--Plus One!" makes it the Frightful Five?)

Thomas has an unusual penchant sometimes for padding his dialog in a scene with pointless information--in this case, Johnny's offhand comment about Crystal being an elemental, which seems irrelevant to anything regarding her departure or his decision. (Even Johnny appears to be admitting that it's a non sequitur that he's uttered without reason.) Regardless, Crystal's exit took place a year ago (our time), so it's understandable that her absence would be simmering with Johnny and would ultimately build to a boiling point. And speaking of boiling, in the scene which follows we can say the same for Johnny's mood following Reed's objections:

For a "family" that's been through so much together, Johnny's, er, hot-headed reaction is surprising, especially considering Reed's marriage to his sister. What exactly does Johnny think Reed would have done, anyway--knock him out? Restrain him? Keep him prisoner? There are times when comics teammates can heighten the drama of the moment by means other than using their powers to provoke a fight--something we saw more than enough of during Thomas's tenure on The Avengers. In this case, maybe Reed would have a line on a solution of some sort; and even if he didn't, how much more impact this scene might have had with Reed actually coming to terms with Johnny's decision.

But the moment passes, and what's done is done--and all that remains is Johnny's race to escape, as absurd as that sounds.

Thanks to a bit of invisibility distraction by Sue, the missile is able to lift off unimpeded. But Sue has a little more to say on the subject:

Whoa, Reed!  Who do you think you are--Barbara Eden? No guy alive can comfortably fold his arms that high above his pecs (give it a shot yourself, gentle reader, and see how awkward it is)--nor is it likely that even an elastic guy would want to.

As for Johnny, it's not all smooth sailing--he unexpectedly meets Inhuman resistance upon reaching his destination, and lets himself be taken into custody in order to gain access to the Great Refuge, upon suspicion that the mad Maximus has once again usurped Black Bolt's rule. But the mystery he finds unfolding will have to wait for another issue to be revealed:

The three remaining members of the FF also have a mystery of their own taking shape, heralded by a summons from their child's governess (whose methods make Skype look archaic by comparison):

Since Reed and Sue have been having marital problems lately, you can imagine how well-received Reed's reply is by Sue, who stalks out as a result. Ben also departs, to visit his girlfriend, Alicia Masters--but his evening out is about to be cut short by an ambush from... from... oh come on, weren't you paying attention to this issue's cover blurbs?

Outnumbered and possibly still weakened from his ordeal in the Mole Man's domain, even the Thing might have a tough time against a bruiser like the Sandman as well as the advantages the Wizard's "wonder gloves" give him (though they're rarely seen used when he battles with the Frightful Four). But the surprising intervention of another gives Ben the breather he needs, as well as an ally:

With Medusa helping the Thing against her former teammates, this fight has shaped up into one that could well go the distance, and, one way or the other, end up as a classic battle talked about in comics circles in perpetuity. Which way it will go will depend on the new and mysterious fourth member of the Frightful Four, who, as the Thing might say, comes on like gangbusters:

Thundra has a point in her mocking assessment of her teammates. A hurled crane isn't going to mean squat to a guy who can turn into sand, or to a "wingless Wizard" who can easily fly out of harm's way, both of whom having inexplicably forgotten their own abilities. (As for the Trapster, well, let's face it, running is pretty much a given.)

Thundra's motives for seeking out the Thing are known at this point only to herself (and perhaps her male partners--it's unclear); but with the way she's advancing on the Thing, Ben might want to put aside his reservations against fighting women, because this fight is definitely on!

Despite the new odds, it's still perhaps premature to say that the writing's on the wall for both the Thing and Medusa, who surely don't have to wait for their foes to strike first before taking the offensive. Yet it seems the fact that we've reached this issue's final page has the two frozen in place. And the Wizard and his crew are certainly going to take advantage of their indecision:

It's taken awhile, but it looks like the Frightful Four are on their way again to having the Fantastic Four at their mercy (or lack thereof). And it's the Wizard's victory lap, as well as the issue's final caption, which give us little reason to believe otherwise:

You'd almost swear that Gerry Conway wrote that final panel, wouldn't you? Hold your horses, G.C.--you're up after Part Two (Plus Two)!

Fantastic Four #129

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


Colin Jones said...

Are Reed's arms actually folded in that panel 'cause they don't look folded and to me it appears as if he's scratching the top of his arm :)

Anonymous said...

I've always loved this issue. It's just great, crazy, wild fun. Big John Buscema gets to throw a lot of kinetic energy in here!
The Trapster got lucky that Ben Grimm didn't have time to complete the spankin' Ben was about to give him. He would never have lived that down. Or sit down.
Ben just likes to spank people once in a while. M.P.

Comicsfan said...

Ben distracting himself by taking time to humiliate the Trapster seems like a terrible lack of good judgment for someone in the middle of a major battle--yet so very Ben. :)

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