Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May The Best Team Win!

The scenario that greets your eyes when glancing at the cover and splash page of Fantastic Four #43 must seem shocking, indeed--the FF sprawled amidst the wreckage of an apparent battle, while, inside, Sue Storm and Reed Richards, with the Thing in tow, fleeing for their lives from the Wizard, who is issuing pursuit orders to... the Human Torch? What is going on here?

Fasten those seat belts, and we'll find out!

If you were perusing the PPC just two days ago, you'd know that you've landed in the middle of a three-issue review of one of the Fantastic Four's greatest battles--their reckoning with the Frightful Four, the group of villains who have defeated the FF in the past and have done so again only recently, having used a device on both the Thing and the Torch to bring out their evil nature and make them susceptible to joining the Frightful Four's ranks. But now, having launched a counter-attack that has neutralized the Wizard's cohorts for the time being, Reed and his fiancée attempt to escape with the Thing in order to return to their H.Q. and hopefully reverse the procedure performed on him that turned him against his former partners.

As for the Torch, there's more to his behavior than meets the eye:

(No, I don't know why the Wizard wouldn't have realized that crucial circuitry in his Id machine was without power while he was using it on the Torch. Hmph--some wizard.)

At any rate, it remains for the Wizard to smooth the ruffled feathers of his partners in crime, having lost both the Thing and his intended victims while forced to remain helpless while in the power of the Wizard's appropriated anti-grav discs. But as Madam Medusa ominously reminds the Torch, Reed and Sue aren't in the clear quite yet, since the Thing could overpower and destroy them at his earliest opportunity.

Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place--but not really, when you think about it. If the Torch flies off to help Reed and Sue, his cover is blown; but if he stays where he is, the Thing could possibly kill them. What to do? Well, Johnny, ask yourself this: What good does it do you to stay with the Frightful Four, if Reed and your sister meet their deaths at the hands of the Thing? If your duplicity is revealed in leaving to help them, so what? You rejoin the FF, hopefully in time to save their lives--and if Reed can do something for Ben, that's half the battle toward carrying the fight back to the Frightful Four. There's really no decision to make here, pal. Take off.

And speaking of Reed and Sue, they've managed to maneuver the weightless Thing into a secure chamber (though with no small degree of resistance from Ben). Now, it's up to Reed. His original plan involved making use of the Wizard's Id machine--but when that proved impossible, he was forced to return to his own lab with Ben and devise a solution there. Yet the risk to his friend is considerable.

Meanwhile, the jig is up for Johnny, as the Wizard discovers the sabotage of his Id machine prior to when Johnny was subjected to it. And so the Human Torch is forced to make a last stand against the Frightful Four--albeit a very brief one.

Paste Pot Pete has certainly seen his fortunes change as the Trapster, I'll give him that. Well, at least they did for awhile.

As for Reed's progress, in the final analysis his work with Ben was touch and go. By all appearances, Reed doesn't get very far with him, with only the most rudimentary verbal probing having passed between him and his patient--and even that was in the form of blunt instructions to shake off the Wizard's influence, rather than attempting to reach him through persuasion and sincerity. But tragedy strikes when Ben, awakening in a rage, attempts to free himself and instead triggers a violent electronic reaction. If not for Sue's force field, Reed would have been seriously injured; and at the last moment, she throws the main control switch to cut off all power, saving both of them.

Yet the loss of power translates to the loss of building security--and the Frightful Four have come calling within that very window which facilitates their ease of access, bringing with them an incentive for surrender that may very well secure their final triumph.

Sue is quite right in her poker analogy, in that the Frightful Four appear to hold all the cards here, on the verge of yet another victory against the FF. And it would surely prove a humiliating defeat for Reed, should he agree to their enemies' terms and submit on behalf of his entire team to treatment from the Id machine, thereby surrendering their collective will to the demands of their foes from that point on.

It's a tense moment, even for the reader--but we needn't worry, since Reed would have made even the Thinker proud with the display of precision calculation and predictive accuracy that he demonstrates here.

And how quickly the tide turns. I'd once written the following about the scene showing the FF gaining the upper hand here: "...what exactly is Medusa doing while all hell is breaking loose around her? Granted, her team has been cut in half, with the Wizard and the Trapster taken out of action--but at the moment, the odds would be even if she'd only thought to yank Sue's feet out from under her and thereby free the Sandman. With the Torch returning shortly, the battle is still probably as good as over--but Medusa doesn't strike me as the indecisive type, nor the type not to be in the thick of a fight. And worse, Reed and Sue are acting like she'll stay that way--like she's not even a factor they need to take into account." I look at the same scene today, and nothing has changed for me in regard to that panel--though I'll go so far as to add that with her hair, she could have attacked both Sue and Reed at the same time, giving the Sandman ample opportunity to strike.

To twist the knife, even when the Torch returns and the FF are rounding up the Frightful Four, no one thinks about securing Medusa with them.

So it's almost gratifying when Medusa makes a break for it, since (1) at this point it's the only sensible direction for the story to go in, and (2) frankly, the FF deserve the blame for making it possible. Though how borderline creepy is it that Johnny would have a thing for both Medusa and the girl who would turn out to be her sister.

Medusa would resurface with the appearance of Gorgon, who sought her out so that she could reclaim her Inhuman heritage--a storyline that essentially changed the character overnight and brushed aside her criminal past as though it didn't exist. Yet you might find interesting a 2007 X-Men story that picks up where this story left off and answers a few questions on just why Medusa's loyalties to the Frightful Four were absolute, and fills in the blanks prior to her reappearance.

But for now, why don't we breathe a sigh of relief that this blockbuster story has ended well for the FF, and skip to the happy ending, eh?

Fantastic Four #43

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Artie Simek


Rick said...

As a kid, I enjoyed these issues immensely. Looking back on them though, it appears Vince did a real rush job. I would love to have seen Stone or Ayers on this, or better yet, Giacoia.

Comicsfan said...

Rick, Giacoia would have been an excellent alternative, indeed!

Haydn said...

And Joe Sinnott started his run as inker extraordinaire the very next issue!

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