Fantastic Four #18

In this issue: the return of those damned dirty Skrulls! Seriously, there’s no race in the Marvel Universe that’s been subject to abject revulsion than the Skrulls. They look at the Mutant Registration Act and say “We wish!” Not just any damn dirty Skrull, though — it’s the Super-Skrull, who will go on to great things in the Marvel Universe! Witness here his humble beginnings!

coverSeptember of 1963, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

First, a little reminder of the events of last issue!

news
Nice work reminding us you don’t have much personality, Sue.

What are they even worried about? Doom clearly fell to his death last issue! In the ’60s people apparently actually liked watching the news. Reed refers to the kidnapping of a friend and an enemy nearly killing them all as an “adventure.” Be grateful that you have no adventurous friends, dear readers. Also, I find this shot of Sue curled up, relaxing around the house to be incredibly sexy, but that is a peek into my soul that we definitely will not be exploring further.

Anyway, Ben has a weird temper tantrum about not being featured in the broadcast, for which he is appropriately chastised by the others, and then Sue and Reed announce their plans for the afternoon: they’re going to the beach!

swim gear
I want a swimsuit like Reed’s.

We finally get to see the ICBM orbital plane in action! You may recall seeing it featured in the cut-outs of the Baxter Building in previous issues, but this is the first time we get to see it used.

icbm tripThere are all sorts of fascinating things we could discuss regarding ICBMs. There are technical problems with using them as a passenger vehicle, of course: how does it land, for instance? Also, ICBMs were not particularly accurate devices, at least not until the 1980s or so. That’s fine when you’re just loading it with nuclear material and targeting something huge like a city, but for precision, like a particular landing pad or tourist resort, it’s no good.

When this issue was written, it was only in the previous few years, with the Mercury rockets, that ICBMs were starting to launch without spectacularly high failure rates. There were all sorts of modifications that NASA had to make to the Air Force rockets to make them useable for spaceflight, not the least of which was adding a spot for an astronaut to sit. I find it curious that Stan still called this ship an ICBM, but maybe that was such a common expression at the time that calling it something else would have been confusing? By the time Reed finished modifying an ICBM to make it usable as a crewed vehicle, it wouldn’t have a whole lot in common with its ancestor.

Thematically, though, I like it as much as I like the fact that NASA did it. Take this thing with basically no other purpose but to wipe humanity off the planet and convert it into a noble search for knowledge. Or in Reed’s case, a sweet trip to some afternoon delight on the beach without your gal’s kid brother around.

Now at this point, only on the second page of the book, you would think this would be a critical moment in the story. Reed and Sue are away on vacation, leaving the team split and, perhaps, vulnerable. Maybe we’ll get some funny “Sue is invisible on the beach” scenes. Maybe Thing and Johnny get attacked and captured. Maybe this is when someone infiltrates the Baxter building and Johnny is forced to defend it by himself. The possibilities are endless.

possibleYou’re going to be disappointed.

Meanwhile, in a distant galaxy:

skrull emperor At this point it’s abundantly clear that Stan Lee has no concept of distance or the space-time continuum. The Andromeda Galaxy, by best estimates, is about 2.5 million light years away. This isn’t new information: there have been measurements since like the 1920s. I’m hard pressed to imagine why a culture that is clearly capable of instantaneous travel and communication across such a vast distance would give a shit about Earth, but here we are. In later years, there are writers who will attempt to address this peculiarity in the Marvel mythos, this idea that Earth is somehow important in the grander scheme of things (this was one of the themes of Busiek’s excellent Avengers Forever, for example). I have to wonder if this sort of Earth-centric (and, honestly, Anglo-centric) view of the universe would happen if Marvel comics started up today instead of in the much more optimistic 1960s.

skrull plotNow, if you recall from waaaaaay back in Issue 2, the Fantastic Four didn’t “defeat” the Skrull invasion so much as dupe them into thinking the Earth was inhabited by monsters too powerful for the aliens to overcome. I have to assume that at some point after that, the Emperor realized he’d been had. In humiliated rage, no doubt, he ordered the preparation of a new plan to conquer Earth.

super skrull introThe plan is the Super-Skrull! As we’ve seen previously, the Skrulls are not what you’d call the most creative of space-faring peoples. They’ve taken a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality here and imbued the Super-Skrull with the powers of the Fantastic Four!

The Skrull homeworld only has one sea.
The Skrull homeworld only has one sea.

He can stretch even further than Mister Fantastic!

super flameHis flame is more powerful than the incredible Human Torch!

super strongEven stronger than the Thing! Like, waaaay stronger! (Though, really, you guys don’t have a machine that can lift 100 tons? Like, Earth has guns that are 100 tons. Maybe you guys shouldn’t invade after all. We are really good at guns.) Note that Super-Skrull doesn’t imitate Thing’s rocky skin at all this issue, but only his sheer strength. That’s an artistic choice for a future appearance, I suppose.

super invisibleHe can even turn invisible, like the Invisible Girl! They don’t show off how he’s better than her, though, as they want to leave a surprise for later.

Jump to a week later, and our team (the time jump renders the plot point earlier about Reed and Sue leaving for a day on the beach completely pointless, as they are back by now) is out shopping. Their presence soon inspires a mob.

mobThat’s a solid zing, Thing!

radio dispatchOh, sweet, innocent Reed. There’s panic and rioting in the streets if a damn sports team loses a game. An alien ship would cause havoc no matter what.

At any rate, our heroes swiftly take action, extracting themselves from the department store through various pedestrian-endangering fashion. I make note of Sue’s exit for a couple of reasons:

sue bechdelFirst, it’s another pretty funny Invisible Sue gag. Second, she forgot to spritz herself with unstable molecules this morning, so her outfit appears to be just floating along with nobody in it. Third, HOLY SHIT we just passed the Bechdel Test! We have two named women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. Zelda and Mabel for the feminist win!

skrull declaration
Yeah, the militia left about a century back, pal.

We see the Skrull flag here (more clearly on the ship), but otherwise the Skrull don’t have a particularly strong iconography. The only Skrull to have an identifying mark on a uniform, for example, is the Emperor (unlike their hated foes, the militaristic Kree, whom we’ll meet later). Is it because of their shape-shifting nature, and wearing something that identifies you as a Skrull would be a bad idea? Or is it because the Skrull have an innate hatred of nationalism and general lack of pride in themselves? The previous Skrulls we met were weak, cowardly toadies who readily surrendered and were quick to distance themselves from the Empire. From what I can tell, the Skrulls tend to follow personalities more than abstract ideas about patriotism and the like. That would explain why the Emperor thinks it’s so important to topple the Fantastic Four: he may expect that if the world’s most powerful heroes can be defeated that the rest of the population will roll over. That the Super-Skrull here is so bold with the declarations and flag planting is probably the most character development we get for the guy in this issue, but it makes him an outlier in the Skrull community. I have to assume it was this bold nature that earned him a spot as test subject for the genetic experimentation that granted him his powers. How many Skrulls did they have to go through before they got to him? What horrors lie on the manacled beds of the Skrull science laboratory?

I won’t get into the issue of nationalism/patriotism = strength/pride/power. I can imagine that for the people who’d just won World War II, though, this would be a basic truth.

Our heroes move swiftly to engage the invading alien! And immediately start losing!

torch defeatedBlack carbon is just soot, don’t get too excited. What is interesting about the use of this term, to me, is that nobody really started studying the stuff into the 1970s, well after this was written and published, and it was well after that before anyone started taking those studies seriously as a component of climate change. Stan Lee was way ahead of the curve on this one. Wikipedia actually lists the term as being coined by those researchers in the ’70s, but clearly that’s not the case.

reed crippledIn this initial encounter, the Super-Skrull handles the team without breaking a sweat, using their own powers against them as well as his innate Skrull abilities. He’s far better at that than the scrubs we met last time.

thing rammedmistakeJohnny comes to long enough to distract the Super-Skrull, and the team makes a quick getaway. The Super-Skrull makes his first blunder by giving them a chance to retreat to the Baxter Building to regroup and plan. There’s no word of what happens in the intervening hours. I assume Super-Skrull finds some management and then goes on TV to trash talk.

In the meantime, Reed puts his brain to work on a solution!

hypothesisAs I learned from GiJoe: The Movie when I was 8 years old, broadcast energy is totally a thing. Top 10 Historical Bad-ass candidate Nikola Tesla did it first over a century ago, powering light bulbs from across a stage using his Tesla coils. We can use it pretty okay for short-range things like cell phone chargers, but it’s not terribly efficient. The bulk of the energy is lost, dissipated into the air. We have found ways to do it using microwaves and lasers, but they’re still ridiculously inefficient and, particularly in the case of lasers, can be quite dangerous.

We’ve already established the idea that Skrulls must be extremely technologically advanced, so I can buy that they’ve perfected wireless energy transmission. It’s still hard to accept the distances involved, though. We’re talking millions of light years here, and that’s not even taking into account all the stuff that’s between the Skrull homeworld and Earth that would be constantly floating into the path of the transmission beam. It can’t, of course, be a sonic beam, as Reed suggests, because sound waves don’t travel in space. Is it like a laser beam? If the Skrulls are pulling this stunt off with something like that, it means they’re probably transmitting something so powerful that it’s just roasting the shit out of anything that wanders into its path. I super enjoy the thought of that level of indiscriminate destruction in the name of the Skrull Empire, though, so I’m going to go with that.

Reed being Reed, he comes up with the necessary technology as well as the plan to execute it.

transmitterSo equipped, they challenge the Super-Skrull to meet them in an isolated location for a final battle. For once they won’t wreck the city during their fight.

get it on
Reed! Inside voice!

The boys set about distracting the Super-Skrull, when he reveals his secret hidden power!

hypnoticDiabolic! I’m not sure how hypnotism is related to Sue’s power set, but, eh? She was hypnotized once by that guy back in Issue 3 I guess? Blinding someone I could totally accept – just turn someone’s eyes invisible, or whatever. But Super-Skrull seems to blind and paralyze them all at the same time. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the new full-page hypnotism ad I just noticed near the back of this issue.

He quickly incapacitates Ben and Johnny using this power, then turns it on Reed. Only Reed’s indomitable will allows him to hold out long enough for Sue to get into position!

skrull defeatIt works! The Skrull technicians can’t reestablish contact, and the frustrated Emperor gives the formerly super Skrull warrior up for dead, vowing vengeance! I’m not gonna lie, they give up pretty fast. Like, call IT or something, reboot the system first at least.

On Earth, the Fantastic Four, Earth’s greatest heroes, treat the Super-Skrull with the dignity any fallen foe defeated under the articles of the Geneva Convention should be affo-

in the pitWhat the shit, Reed?!

the end
Yes, Reed, we all have our uses, like being an alien-murdering psychopath.

Once again, the ugly space-racist hidden deep within Reed Richards rears its head. They’ve literally entombed this guy to die a horrific, slow death of thirst or starvation or whatever it is that’ll kill a Skrull first. In the ensuing days of frantically trying to call home, locked in the darkness of that cave, fighting to stay sane even as he considers gnawing his own arm off in desperate hunger, the Super-Skrull will surely swear eternal revenge, should he ever escape.

Even setting aside the moral and ethical problems here: I have to assume that Skrulls, being shape shifters, have a pretty good feel for any foreign objects that might be planted on their body. There’s no guarantee that Super-Skrull won’t just sweep himself clear of the transmitter, reacquire contact with the Skrull homeworld, and then easily escape to terrorize the world once more. It could happen just five minutes from this last panel. Even without the bonus powers, he could just shift into whatever passes for a gopher on the Skrull homeworld and tunnel his way out. This is no solution, guys!

The Super-Skrull will go on to become a classic Fantastic Four villain and I’m looking forward to more appearances, especially as they start giving the guy a personality of his own.

Next time: Time travel! Rama-Tut — the pharaoh from the future!

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