Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Cone Of Violence

(with of course a fond nod to the high-security device from "Get Smart")

Deadly danger beckons when the members of the Fantastic Four find themselves having the same "dream"--in actuality, a disturbing communication from the Kree Supreme Intelligence, who warns them of a deadly encounter to come:

Talk about a wake-up call. But it leads to one of the more interesting battles of the team, as well as one of the most desperate. Ronan, The Accuser would of course go on to become one of the more infamous Kree figures, having extensive involvement in dealings with other races as well as becoming a major player in the Kree agenda and its political evolution; but in this story, his first appearance, he's firmly under the yoke of the Supreme Intelligence, and he single-mindedly carries out his instructions. That said, you can still detect a sense of his ambition, his autonomy, and certainly his self-confidence.

As for the issue's cover, it's a little deceptive, given that the FF's life-or-death battle takes place not in the open, but in a containment "cone" of Ronan's creation which virtually puts them at his mercy and limits their options. And since the term "mercy" is in direct conflict with Ronan's deadly mission as a one-man judge, jury, and executioner, what you see on the cover is a fair representation of the FF's struggle to come.

In addition, the battle presents something of a challenge for artist Jack Kirby, who must present the FF in his usual dynamic style but must somehow have them meet Ronan's attack in such close quarters. It's a fight the X-Men might adapt to more quickly, given their many practice sessions in the confined space of their Danger Room; but if the Thing isn't careful, he could belt one of his teammates, who are probably already sweltering because the Torch's heat has nowhere to vent. Kirby's way of having the FF navigate this battle will require a little suspension of disbelief in some areas--but, all things considered, he handles things reasonably well.

We find the FF the next morning, understandably a little on edge. But it's not until they check in with each other that they discover the dream they'd each had the previous night was actually something much more:

Despite wearing an FF uniform (and to breakfast, at that--I'm still rubbing the sleep from my eyes before even thinking about having breakfast), Sue Richards, the FF's reluctant heroine, doesn't exactly relish her danger-filled life, and didn't at all picture her marriage as a dangerous occupation, fending off attacks and super-villains. Perhaps it's too much for us to expect her to smoothly handle sitting down to breakfast and finding out there's an imminent threat to her life. But still:

Good old-fashioned Reed. Shopping and pampering are the keys to any woman's happiness, eh, old sport? (By the way, Reed, where the heck did you get those guns?)

Meanwhile, the dreaded Ronan, not one to delay his judgment, has already reached Earth orbit:

The fact that the Kree haven't been on Earth in a few thousand years gives writer Stan Lee another opportunity to have our society assessed through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with our customs and stage of development, as he's done with the Silver Surfer, the Stranger, et al. Providing he doesn't go overboard with it, Lee accomplishes these kinds of frank evaluations of our character, our questionable choices, and our "primitive" evolutionary climb quite effectively. Here, he keeps Ronan's observations brief and almost clinical, before moving on to the business at hand:

As for the FF, you'd think that, "dream" or no dream, they'd put themselves on alert for at least the next 24 hours if they've been warned there's a bruiser named Ronan on the way. But, hey, why not take the day off?

It doesn't take long after establishing his cone, though, that Ronan moves to summon the FF to their fate, wherever they may be:

Already we can see that the FF don't have much room to maneuver if things turn nasty. And speaking of nasty Things, Ben Grimm is the first to be dealt with, followed by the Torch--because for Ronan, protocol must be observed before he goes through the formalities and metes out his sentence:

Gosh, Sue--did you forget you're not helpless? How about forming a force field to block that ray, instead of crying out in desperation? At any rate, Ronan has simply used his weapon to transmute the FF's clothing into their regular uniforms as a small demonstration of his power. (Though I think bringing the Thing crumbling to the ground did a fair job of that.) Ronan then pronounces sentence on the group; but while he does so, the team's mightiest member struggles to make sure he's a part of this fight:

As Ronan acts, it's clear that it's do-or-die for the FF--and in such a confined space, that comes down to brawling. When you think about it, there's really not much the Torch can accomplish offensively without bringing harm to his teammates, and so Kirby takes him out of action fairly quickly (look how he suddenly stops short, despite his blazing charge):

Eventually, it's Ben who decides the battle, in a maneuver that effectively makes Ronan pass sentence on himself:

Sometimes I think Lee goes too far in having Reed choreograph the FF's actions. Johnny certainly doesn't need any direction or urging to dodge the deadly beam of a weapon aimed at him; and I would think Ben would be better suited to devise "strategems" for the team that deal with hand-to-hand grappling. What does lab worker Reed Richards know about leverage and shifting your weight with an opponent that an old-school brawler like Ben Grimm doesn't?

With Ronan on his way back to the Kree (in whatever condition), Reed makes the good point that the Kree will now be made aware of the status of humans on a "backwater" world that they once scarcely paid attention to. We know from subsequent stories in The Avengers of where this encounter will lead--but here, Reed can only wonder with the rest of us:

Oh, Reed. Do the Kree really seem like the type to let a bloody nose slide?

Fantastic Four #65

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

I don't know why the Supreme Intelligence would warn the FF that Ronan is coming - I assume he's probing their minds for any weaknesses but why warn them in advance ? Perhaps he's never heard of "to be forewarned is to be forearmed" - they did destroy the Kree sentry, after all, so he must know the FF are no pushover.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, the Kree S.I. may indeed be jumping the gun and acting rashly; then again, the Kree are an arrogant race who don't do anything piecemeal. We also have to keep in mind that they haven't touched base with Earth in millennia, and have no reason to believe that the Earth poses any real challenge to a star-spanning empire. (Though, as you point out, the FF's minds were probed--perhaps all the more reason for them to "slap the gauntlet" against the FF with a warning that there are going to be consequences for their actions.)