Tuesday, March 6, 2018

...And Spidey Makes Five!

We've previously seen a part of Fantantic Four history which dealt with the conflicted feelings of Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, in regard to both Reed Richards and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. And though those feelings were eventually resolved in Reed's favor, it was touch and go for Reed, given the amount of time Sue was taking in making up her mind.

In the penultimate issue to that conflict's resolution, it was the Puppet Master's control of Namor which forced the issue once more, though once again Namor would meet with disappointment--as would Reed for much the same reason, since Sue agreeing to return with Reed and the rest of the FF wasn't the same as a declaration of love for him. But in an early 1977 story which in essence retold the events of that tale from a different angle, Sue would have an opportunity to make a different choice, and perhaps make a new beginning for herself.

As for that "different angle," we have only to glance at the prominent figure positioned in the center of that issue's cover to understand what--who--it is we're talking about.

Even the Watcher must have thought his eyes were playing tricks on him at the sight of that.

With the exception of Spider-Man now operating as a fifth FF member, the two stories line up for the most part in terms of the adventures of the FF taking place at the time. For instance, the team still undertakes a "space race" to beat the "reds" to the moon--only this time, because Reed's new rocket was only outfitted to seat four, Reed asks Sue to stay behind and monitor, while Spider-Man takes her place. And while the mission still ends in success, the Puppet Master has acted sooner to entrap Sue using his new pawn, the Sub-Mariner, capturing her while the rest of the team is still fending off their fans and the press at the airport.

And, just as before, Namor still appears as a projection at FF headquarters, claiming responsibility for Sue's abduction and daring the team to attempt her rescue.

In this reality, the Puppet Master also covertly follows the FF's bathyscaphe in order to witness the destruction of his enemies at Namor's hand--only this time, Alicia Masters doesn't insist on accompanying the FF. In the original story, Alicia's only purpose appeared to be to identify the hidden villain responsible for Namor's odd behavior (her stepfather, the Puppet Master)--but as we'll see, the story uses a more sensible source for that information.

And so we catch up with all the parties following the Sub-Mariner's capture of the bathyscaphe, as Namor trumpets the fact that the FF are his prisoners, while his foes claim otherwise.

During the one-on-one battles which follow, it's clear by now that Spider-Man has made a solid contribution to the FF and that his teammates all feel that he turned out to be a wise addition to their ranks--with the possible exception of Sue, who's noticed that her role in the FF has been overlooked since Spider-Man joined. In itself, that may not be as serious as the story leads us to believe; but we'll have to wait a moment to understand its true ramifications.

For now, it's Mr. Fantastic vs. the Sub-Mariner, while the Thing slips away to free Sue from captivity, just as before--only this time, the amazing Spider-Man is nearby to lend a hand.

Another development that's parallel to the original story shows the Puppet Master becoming impatient with the lack of ruthlessness in Namor's dealings with the FF, and reaching the decision to exert his control of Namor more forcefully. Yet he inadvertently tips his hand as the one who's orchestrated this entire affair, when Spider-Man tips off the FF as to the probable reason for Namor's actions.

And more similarities, as the Puppet Master again meets his end at the tentacles of the giant octopus which the Thing hurled away in order to free Sue. It's then that Namor returns to normal; only this time, he moves to continue the fight, with Reed and the rest of the FF all too willing to comply. That is, the FF, minus one.

With Sue now able to only breathe water, Namor smashes his citadel's dome, allowing the ocean to rush in--and Reed and the others are forced to evacuate in their ship, while leaving behind one of their own. Their reflections provide a poignant end to this alternate tale, a story which would certainly have sent shock waves through FF fandom if it had actually taken place in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1963 (excluding the presence of Spider-Man).

And speaking of Spider-Man, he's feeling no small measure of guilt at this development. But perhaps we should really be paying close attention to Johnny...

...because in this story's follow-up, he changes his tune about Spider-Man. And heaven help Atlantis.

The Watcher introduces the new What If reader to the concept of alternate realities.

What If #1

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Jim Craig
Inks: Pablo Marcos
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

When Sue steps out of that shell-device thingy Namor mentions that his people were "scattered to the seven sea-winds". What the heck is a sea-wind? And the FF had no problems finding Namor but Namor can't find his own people!
Sue's hairstyle is wrong too - the readers of What If #1 may have been unaware of what she looked like in the original story but they couldn't check with PPoC ; )

Comicsfan said...

... the FF had no problems finding Namor but Namor can't find his own people!

No doubt because the Sub-Mariner never developed the knack for playing a hunch, Colin! ;)

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