I’m learning that it’s usually not a great issue when the villain doesn’t make it onto the cover.
This issue is the bane of my existence. I hate it. I started writing this blog back in 2011 and stopped in 2012 because I got to this issue and didn’t want to write about it. I recently decided to come back, having forgotten why I originally stopped. Now I know. Now I remember. I thought about skipping it, in fact, the past few blog entries were an attempt to avoid it, but now I’m here. I need to get to issue #8 because that issue is actually really good. This one isn’t though. I’m going to rant throughout this article, and I’ll go on a lot of tangents in order to deal with this. I just finished writing half of it…only to then have the WordPress app crash on me. It deleted everything. But I’m going to do it again. Let me take a big breath and strap myself in for the convoluted, contrived nonsense that is Fantastic Four #7!
Our story begins with Kurrgo, the self proclaimed ruler of Planet X. His head is drawn at different sizes throughout the issue. Don’t worry, it never gets mentioned. Kurrgo’s head would lead you to believe he’s really smart. He isn’t.
Why did the aliens name their planet, Planet X? Is it because it sounded cool or interesting? (For an entire article about the letter “X”, and why people are fascinated with it, check out this great blog post HERE.)
Could it be they had watched the 1951 movie, “The Man from Planet X.”
Maybe Stan Lee heard about it …
We find out that there is a world-ending asteroid on a collision course Planet X, and there’s no way to evacuate the planet. They’ve only ever built TWO spaceships. Why? Read the panel:
Again, they’re not the smartest aliens.
Since they can’t save themselves, they’ve figured that the only way out of this is to send their red, hulking, badass robot to bring the Fantastic Four back to them. By this point, everyone in the comic world seems to know about the Fantastic Four (we’ll get to that a little later). As for the red, hulking, badass robot, he is the best thing about this issue.
Here’s where I’m going to tangent for a bit…about this single panel. I’ve mentioned it before, but I really love Jack Kirby’s designs. There’s a human tendency to look for faces, so it feels extremely alien to look at this guy and not see a “face” in the traditional sense. It just feels odd and discomforting. This would be a common motif that he would employ over the years. Here’s a great example, from “The Celestials #7 (1977)”:
For a great article comparing this image to HR Giger’s “Landscape XXIX”, go HERE.
For anyone that has been on Disney California Adventure’s “Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT” ride, you’ll notice a few Celestial helmets in the lobby, where the out of service Tower of Terror elevator used to be.
Celestial helmets should be massive though…so I’m not sure why these are small, or how The Collector would have them.
Anyway, back to THIS panel:
I thought of two things when I first saw this:
Even though this is Post-Lucas Star Wars, you can’t help but see a similarity.
George Lucas has openly said he was a huge Jack Kirby fan, so much so that he even owns original Kirby art. Lucas’s upcoming Museum of Sequential Art Museum, set to break ground in Los Angeles this week, will feature those pieces from his collection. Now, while Lucas was not responsible for designing the look of Star Wars, he guided the artists using references. Everything from Frank Frazetta, to samurai armor played a role in defining the Star Wars “look”. I could totally imagine Lucas handing over this panel and saying “I want a guy that looks like THIS.” As far as the newer films are concerned, the concept artists are still directed to follow the ethos of the brand. They look at the same art, watch the same films, and work to pull references from the same source material that inspired Lucas’s original vision.
I’ll point you to a few more blogs that further explore the possibility of Jack Kirby’s influence of Star Wars:
Theres also this great article showing side-by-sides of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” story compared to Star Wars.
Finally, my favorite: comparing Kirby’s Fantastic Four to Star Wars.
Ok. WHERE WAS I?
The Fantastic Four are facing a dilemma. They’re invited guests to a dinner hosted by the government, which nobody besides Reed wants to attend. The other three members tell stories of worst case scenarios of how their powers could destroy the dinner.
The Thing, aka Ben’s story is, on the surface, pretty funny. If you dig deeper…it’s sad. Every dilemma he faces in these stories ties back to his lack of confidence and his self deprecating attitudes. The Thing is “the monster that nobody can love.” He’s often reduced to a “dumb brute.” We see his deepest concerns brought up time and time again, only for Reed to abruptly change the subject. Not once has anyone tried to convince Ben otherwise, or at least try to talk to him.
I know it’s something that eventually becomes stronger, plot-wise, but for now I’m left wondering why these people are good for him to be around. Even Johnny is a dick to him. Anyway, it bums me out to see the bullshit he’s subjected to in each issue.
Just like my blog post, there’s a story tangent very early on. Ben gets upset at Johnny for calling him a name, so he messes with his shower temperature. This causes Johnny to burst into flames. The flames smoke out the their apartment, with everything going to shit for two pages. It’s inconsequential to the plot, but remember, one thing that set this comic apart at the time was how “realistic” the characters were. If anything, there was one little part I liked, where Reed stretches through the ventilation to see where the smoke is coming from. The last panel shows his face flattened, sticking out of the vent grill.
It pisses me off that BEN is Reed’s best friend and yet he calls him “The Thing.” Reed is an demeaning asshole. This is a reoccurring character trait of his.
Elsewhere on the planet earth, the red robot lands and takes a metal detector out for a stroll. It has super advanced technology which will find the Fantastic Four.
Klaatu barada nikto!
“The Day The Earth Stood Still”…also released in 1951. Hrm…
We get this pretty cool panel of the robot, which reminds me of something Mike Mignola would draw.
Let’s talk about the popularity of the FF for a moment. They are celebrities at this time, so pretty much ANYWHERE they go becomes a chance to highlight this. Celebrity culture was big in 1962, and The Beatles demonstrated firsthand how manufactured stardom actually works. Playing up how much people look up to the FF (literally, in this case) sends the message to the young readers that “WOW! These people are cool because other people think they’re cool too!”
Regular cars are MUCH cooler looking than the Fantasti-Car.
Despite all of their arguing, and Ben’s hopes that the dinner wouldn’t happen, they all go to the dinner. Of course, everyone is having a gay ol’ time, except Ben.
They get a medal here…though it’s not stated what the medal is for. Strange Tales has shown that The Human Torch is a celebrity…but nobody knows his identity. …so does this mean that people know his identity now? Maybe we’re just meant to forget about that.
People suddenly start to flip out and berate the Fan Four. The team escapes and has to go on the run.
Ahhh the asbestos suit returns!
I’m trying to imagine how The Thing broke a wall down and put it back up? (sorry Kirby!)
Pretty much, the entire world hates them now, which is the event depicted on the front cover. But why? We discover that the red robot’s advanced machinery is the cause. It’s a tactic to ensure the team MUST go to Planet X, whether they want to or not.
The robot tells them his plan, even mentioning “no matter WHERE you go”. The panel looks like it’s depicting them possibly going back in time but they’re still screwed?
Also, the robot is starting to remind me of Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe.
Snake Eyes v2 – 1985
At this point, the Fantastic Four decide to go to Planet X. Not because they can’t escape – they very well could! Read the panel for the explanation:
Ben looks like he’s thinking “GOD, THESE PEOPLE ARE RUINING MY LIFE.”
When they finally reach Planet X, they’re lowered to the planet via a gravitational beam.
This would have made SUCH A BETTER COVER. Seriously. This is the type of shot you’ll end up seeing in later issues of FF when things really start moving along. I turned the page, saw this, and finally felt something. The Fantastic Four is great when it gives you a sense of awe and wonder. Eventually, FF will get bigger, bolder, and more epic. This is just a little glimpse, but it works. You can feel the weightlessness and scope of this moment. Really powerful art, especially with the perspective drawing you downward like you’re descending along with them. This is page 15 of 25 though, and the pacing of the issue would have greatly improved if this had occurred sooner in the story.
After Kurrgo explains the plight of his world, and the reason for coercing the Fantastic Four to come, the group panics. What do they do? They’d rather have nothing to do with saving the world, instead wanting to go back to Earth. The try beating the red robot into submission to take them home. At one point, Johnny attempts to do something he’s never done before:
This is kinda like how in Strange Tales #102 he does this:
Regardless, despite working up for it to be an awesome moment, it has absolutely zero payoff. The robot is too strong, and the other members of the team also fail in their attempts to pound him into submission. In the end, they’re interrupted by the gravitational forces destroying the planet.
Action! As only Kirby can do!
We get the splash page for Part 5 of this story, which again is even more interesting than the cover. There’s so much going on, and so many little details to unpack, as the team works together to construct an amazing device to save Planet X.
Nothing is explained, but it just looks super cool. Sue’s face really speaks to the desperation and odds they are up against. We end up learning that Reed has designed a capsule which contains “Reducing Gas.” I’m guessing that this is just a cannon that can be used to fire the capsules?
For anyone reading Ant-Man, Reed pretty much ripped off Hank Pym’s secret to Ant-Man. In fact…Hank’s invention was called “Reducing Potion” back in “Tales to Astonish #27.” I don’t know though…I have a few gripes:
- How does the gas shrink the aliens…but doesn’t end up shrinking trees and buildings? Wouldn’t the gas shrink all organic matter that it touches? This is why Hank’s liquid version seems much more believable.
- Why couldn’t they launch the capsules straight at the asteroid? I have two words: “Comics Code” – I’ll get to this.
- I don’t know…I just feel like there were better options.
Ben (left), Reed (center), and Johnny (right) – ready to rock and roll.
Alright! Getting close to the end here! The team has finished building everything they need, and Planet X erupts into chaos.
When I was a kid, Kirby’s art never appealed to me. Now I can appreciate panels like this. Here, Kirby is able to convey the immense weight of the falling rock, as well as the strength of The Thing. I love stuff like this! Also, the little detail of including Johnny in the frame – who isn’t powerful enough to save himself from this situation.
Now, as for the Reducing Gas, here was the plan from Reed Richards:
1. Reduce the size of everyone
2. Evacuate everyone
3. Find a new world
4. Land and use an Enlarging Gas to restore the size of everyone
Kurrgo decides that he doesn’t want to give the Enlarging Gas to the people, instead hoping that if he keeps them small it will ensure his rule. In the end, Kurrgo struggles to bring the Enlarging Gas tank back in time, and the spaceships leave the planet without him. Then we get this panel:
Kurrgo stayed behind and died…for nothing. This is your Comics Code moment. Remember, the villain always has to have a downfall to show that their misdeeds do not go unpunished. As much as an asshole move this was on Reed’s part, I’m glad we will never see Kurrgo again…
…just kidding. He comes back.
I’m done. That’s it. There were a few other things I wanted to mention, but instead I’m moving onto the next issue.