Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Explosive Debut of... Blastaar!

1967 took the Fantastic Four comic through an awesome year of adventure, helmed by the Lee/Kirby/Sinnott team that was still going strong. The beginning of that year saw the team plunged into battle with the cosmic-powered Dr. Doom; in the summer, they would go on to encounter both the Kree sentry and that race's deliverer of final judgment, Ronan the Accuser; soon afterward, they would come into conflict with the group of scientists responsible for the creation of Him; and to close out the year, the Thing would once again be turned against his friends, this time as a pawn of the mad Thinker.

But while Spring in the real-world New York City of '67 was ushered in with a late snowstorm that had New Yorkers sledding down hills and shoveling snow off their walkways and cars, things were heating up for the FF around that time with a sensational two-part story that introduced a brand-new villain--Blastaar, the Living Bomb Burst--who would join forces with one of the team's deadliest enemies and engage the FF in pitched battle in the city's streets.

And things were already looking pretty bad for the FF from their prior issue, when the Sandman launched a brazen attack against them within their headquarters that had them on the ropes and left Reed Richards hopelessly stranded in the Negative Zone and minutes away from his end. Shoveling snow off the Baxter Building roof probably seemed infinitely preferable to Reed, under the circumstances.

As the next issue opens, the remaining members of the FF are caught in a state of frustration and helplessness, unable to think of any way to help their leader avoid certain death, as his course takes him closer to the exploding atmosphere surrounding the Earth that exists in negative space. Of all times for an event which would normally be a cause for celebration to occur: the return of Crystal, who, along with the rest of the Inhumans, has escaped imprisonment from behind the barrier that had surrounded their Great Refuge, and who teleports into FF headquarters to reunite with Johnny Storm. She learns the grim news involving the FF's leader almost immediately--but she also offers some slim hope for Reed's rescue.

(And a No-Prize is waiting for you if you can deduce the solution to Reed's dilemma that both Crystal and the FF have completely overlooked in this scene!)

Meanwhile, it turns out the so-called Living Bomb-Burst has been busy wreaking havoc on one of the Zone's populated worlds--but finally subdued and taken prisoner, though too dangerous and powerful to be dealt with through conventional means. The mission the crew of a transport are charged with is to dump this deadly foe in the same debris belt that Reed is hurtling toward, and letting the deadly atmospheric explosions solve their problem for them. Coincidentally, Blastaar's drop-off point turns out to be far too close for comfort for Reed, though he remains unaware of his danger. (As if he needs any more danger coming his way at this point.)

Back on the Earth of our universe, Crystal has brought the FF's dire problem to Black Bolt, who assigns Triton to pierce the Zone in order to track Reed's location and rescue him--and in the nick of time, too. But what of Blastaar?

Yikes! Reed and Triton have picked up a hitchhiker and don't even realize it! It's a happy homecoming for Reed, to be sure--but what fate awaits the Earth?

As if Blastaar isn't a deadly enough threat on his own, fate now has him being found by the Sandman, who's apparently been waiting for an opportunity to resume his attack on the FF but whose giant hand now retrieves a deadly alien being--someone who will brook no resistance in establishing the terms of their meeting and who makes it clear that he'll show no mercy if he's crossed.

It makes sense for Blastaar to force information from a native of this planet--and as luck would have it, the Sandman is also a criminal, who can assist him where and when necessary. But Blastaar's only use for Sandman is as a guide; beyond that, this ruthless conqueror has no patience for planning, and no intention of delaying his campaign of terror, though Sandman has likely recommended the perfect group of targets to start with.

(Wow, great observation, Triton--but that's what we humans call "stating the obvious"!)

Reed quickly deduces that his return from the Negative Zone might have been shadowed by one of the indigenous forms of life from there; but when both Reed and Triton investigate, they're unprepared for the power they encounter, and from two fronts.

As for Blastaar, he's eager to reach street level and begin his swath of destruction and subjugation of the populace. These are the days before Code: Blue, of course--a division of the police force specially equipped and trained to take on super-powered threats--but the police have encountered the likes of Sandman and others of his ilk on their beat before, and have developed countermeasures to be deployed when needed. Yet though these early responders bravely confront these twin threats, Blastaar appears to be used to dealing with heavy, armed resistance, and is able to seize the offensive almost immediately.

But while Sue and Reed tend to the injured Triton, the rest of the FF begin to appear on the scene--and Blastaar and the Sandman soon encounter more formidable resistance. Kirby lays out a well-paced, action-packed battle, with Blastaar giving ample demonstration of his ability to pose a deadly threat--while Lee more than rises to the occasion and jams a wealth of dialog into the tale that keeps everything moving and segueing nicely. The Torch and the Thing, as they have before, show here how well they work together, with the Torch providing perfect air support for the Thing's ground assault and looking for opportunities to take the heat off his partner--while the Thing, it goes without saying, comes on like gangbusters.

But this fight needs the FF's entire complement in play--and with Triton on the mend, Reed and Sue prepare to join the action. Though Reed seems to be setting aside his modesty for the duration:

(It's almost comforting to discover that Reed has a "junk drawer" just like the rest of us, eh?)

While Reed digs through odds and ends that would probably have others in the scientific community exclaiming "What the heck is that? And that? And...", the battle below continues to rage, with both the Sandman and Blastaar proving to be aggressive combatants who are out for blood. And whether through shrewd instinct or mere happenstance, they end up separating these two members of the FF, which might turn the tide in their favor--while Crystal gets her first exposure to what became known as a "masher."

It's a rare day when we see the Torch make an attempt to incinerate his foe, given his tendency to instead use his flame tactically or to herd or imprison his opponent(s). Yet he proceeds here anyway, even having no way of knowing how well Blastaar can endure the direct and forceful application of flame, in this case magnified by Blastaar's own power. But the point becomes moot since, just as in the Negative Zone, Blastaar demonstrates his immunity to being thus engulfed--a talent which no doubt expedites the process of world-conquering for him.

Elsewhere, the Sandman is in the process of dealing more fatally with the Thing, now unconscious from his dizzying transport to the pier and about to be consigned to a watery grave. (Apparently a brain made of sand molecules doesn't succumb to dizziness, even though the Sandman was spinning at the same rate as his foe.) The Sandman would have every right to raise his fist in triumph as the Thing sinks like a safe, since he's admittedly conducted a brilliant maneuver--but his fist, like the rest of him, is going to be dispersed into helplessness very shortly.

Back at the battle site with Blastaar and the Torch, Reed and Sue join the fray, with Reed having constructed a helmet that's designed to prevent the release of Blastaar's power by cutting off the explosive pressure that builds up within his body. Getting it to fit snugly on Blastaar's head will be the problem, despite the Torch's maneuver that gets Reed halfway there--another example of the tactical use of his power. (I might have suggested temporarily blinding Blastaar with a flare burst, but what do I know.)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen--in Stan Lee's universe, there were times when women felt the need to apologize for becoming too feminine. He must have found the '70s and '80s to be very confounding years in certain respects. Lee was notably progressive in presenting a number of social issues in the pages of comics, but lagged behind when it came to easing up on portraying the dependency of women on men for their stability and strength. Yet, sticking to what he knows, Lee turned in some outstanding work during this period on Fantastic Four, cutting his teeth on the comic and honing his skills at characterization and storytelling over the years to firmly establish the FF in ascendancy. '67 arguably saw the last year of that rise, a subject we'll explore in a separate post.

Fantastic Four #63
(with scenes from #62)

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Anonymous said...

Lockjaw could have teleported into space to rescue Reed - do I get the No-Prize ?

david_b said...

This quite simply is one of my most cherished, most remembered battles ever. First enjoyed in MGC reprints in 1973.., I finally got the original issues a decade ago.

Just all-in-all Marvel Silver Age glory here, it works on all fronts.

Anonymous said...

Here we see the very definition of the term, "clobbering time."
Definitely one of my favorites as well!

Comicsfan said...

The No-Prize is yours, Colin! (Now, if I can just figure out where I put the darn thing, it'll be no-mailed your way!)