Fantastic Four #21

We’ve got a doozy this week. Hoo boy.

coverDecember of 1963, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. A guy named Hate Monger dressed in a conspicuously pointy hat? This definitely won’t be heavy-handed at all. The warning that we “don’t dare reveal his true identity” (a warning against spoilers) suggests that this might be the return of an old enemy.

Also: Sergeant Fury! His appearance here is a pretty fascinating bit of storytelling hijinks. Earlier in 1963, Lee and Kirby created Nick Fury for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, a World War II-era war series (mostly on a bet with their publisher that they could never sell a book with such a ridiculous title, a bet I assume they won as the series continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s and had a massive impact on the Marvel Universe as a whole).

Just a few months after that series starts, they have the balls to introduce an older Fury here in the modern Marvel U, which means they’re telling two distinct stories about the same character in two distinct time periods. So right off the bat Fury is involved in some interesting temporal storytelling shenanigans, at least on a meta level. Trivia note: Dick Ayers, who did the inking work on most of these early Fantastic Four issues we’ve looked at already, went on to take over the penciling duties on Sgt. Fury et al., which became his signature, award-winning work.

To the issue! We open with a typical day at the Baxter Building. Reed is investigating some gravitational anomalies.

tidescopeJohnny is nursing his new-found (friendly?) rivalry with a certain webhead. This love-hate competitive relationship between the two of them still defines their interactions today.

spidey dart boardAnd Sue is…goddamn it, Sue.

wigsThe series generally can’t seem to decide whether Sue Storm is a scientist or what, but leans far too often in the direction of somewhat vain, shallow socialite. Lee and company would go all-in with the Wasp over at The Avengers, making her a fashion designer, but can’t seem to decide what they want to do with Sue.

They all get interrupted by violent banging from Ben’s quarters. He’s super pissed about the news and is taking it out on a new high-tech punching bag!

ben madpapersAll the headlines look pretty bleak to me, but one in particular has got Ben pretty steamed. Seems there’s a new guy named the Hate-Monger who’s been stirring up trouble. He’s basically the Westboro Baptist Church of his day.

Sue’s not wrong, though, it’s not really the business of the Fantastic Four. OR IS IT?

Our heroes decide to go for a walk to chill out, but they come across the unspeakable — the exact thing they were just talking about!

PTAMeet…the Hate-Monger!

speechH-M (not to be confused with the fashionably cute but affordable H&M clothing store OR IS IT?) gets the crowd riled up and a mob ensues. They pick some dude for some hasslin’, but Ben won’t have it.

grandstandAt some point it’s established that Ben is Jewish, so this sort of rage directed at those who might scapegoat a minority totally makes sense. The Hate-Monger is ready for it, though!

h rayHe zaps them with his H-Ray! The team immediately starts bickering and fighting amongst themselves!

fight amongst yourselvesThis goes for a couple of pages, and then — the unthinkable!

break up
I’m not sure if Sue was actually struck by the H-Ray.

Nooo! Is this the end of the Fantastic Four?!

New, grumpy Reed stomps back to the Baxter Building to discover some jagoff in the foyer, demanding to be let in and beating up the building security for no apparent reason.

fury introMeet Nick Fury! Nick and Reed met in Sgt. Fury and and His Howling Commandos Issue 3, just a few months prior to this in publishing years. If you’re familiar with Nicholas from his later SHIELD years you’ll note the absence of the eye patch. Future stories will explain that his injured eye gradually lost function over a number of years, so it’s possible he wore it off and on through this time period until it became a more permanent fixture on his face.

massacre mountainFury reminds me very much of Slam Bradley, an early creation over at DC back in the 1930s. Slam was a tough, hard-drinking private eye who would solve mysteries more with his fists than his wits. These guys are deeply steeped in the masculine ideals of the first half of the last century. Rough and tumble street-smart guys who took no guff and got shit done without powers. Fury is always going to be the coolest guy in the room (which is why it works so well to have him played by a guy like Sam Jackson today). Pre-SHIELD Fury is a particular favorite of mine – if you get a chance, find a copy of the sadly short-lived Avengers 1959, which is Howard Chaykin’s take on CIA-era Nick Fury assembling a crack team of adventurers to take down escaped Nazi superhumans, it’s a blast.

Shrewd Fury quickly realizes something is wrong with his old war buddy.

changedDespite his misgivings, Fury decides to share matters of national security with Mr. Fantastic. A South American country called San Gusto (where they’re a big fan of the Italian language I guess?) is falling apart.

san gusto

Friends like these, eh Nicholas?
Friends like these, eh Nicholas?

Spending billions to make a South American country into a democracy? The CIA worried about the balance of power? Who knew Nick Fury had such a sense of humor?

Reed buys it and immediately hops into the Pogo Plane, insisting he works alone now. Fury is maybe not so sure and stays behind, leaving a delicate political situation in the hands of a man whom he suspects is not in his right mind.

Well, Fury is in luck. The rest of the team spots Reed’s Pogo Plane taking off and angrily move to investigate.

furious three
Fury’s other talent is in shit-eating grins.

The team agrees to go with Fury to San Gusto, if only to show up Reed. We get a lot of thought bubbles from Fury in this issue, which reveal that he’s well aware of the Hate-Monger’s influence over the team as well as his involvement with the unrest in San Gusto. We haven’t seen a ton of thought bubbles from the series on the whole, but it’s appropriate here. Fury is a master spy and manipulator. He doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve like our heroes, and he doesn’t reveal his plans unless it’s absolutely necessary. This way we can still get the whole story without betraying the basic nature of Fury’s character.

Someone else has his eyes on the sky, too, though.

monger eyesHate-Monger is super well funded from somewhere.

sub surface missileSecret super-weapons are a fascination of mine, but my Google Fu is failing me on Stan’s claim that the Russians were working on a sub-surface boring rocket. There were absolutely some batshit things that everyone was working on throughout World War II and the Cold War, though, so who knows what random speculative article he read in Time or Red Scare Monthly or whatever it was. It’s also entirely possible he pulled this completely out of his ass.

As everyone is rushing to catch up and make it to South America, Reed has been up to some shenanigans there already, destroying weapons caches and harassing rebel patrols.

jetHe makes a strange discovery! This is a super gross use of his powers.

beam machine
Please tell me that’s his hand.

He tracks the machinery down into a secret bunker!

gassedCaptured! The true enemy of San Gusto revealed! (To Reed anyway — we already knew.) Turns out the machine Reed discovered is a big, amped-up version of the Hate-Monger’s H-Ray pistol. He’s been zapping San Gusto’s population with it to stir up the conflict.

hate revealThe Hate-Monger kindly takes a moment to explain his master plan.

moon planNice call back to page 1! It seems weird that Reed has the wherewithal to recognize that Hate-Monger turned the FF against each other, given that he’s still under that same influence. Luckily for Reed, help is on the way!

wah hoo
His other other great talent is shooting people’s hats off.

There’s that Wah-Hoo! the Howling Commandos are so famous for (in addition to being famous for killin’ lots of Razis). The Hate-Monger reveals himself a coward and immediately capitulates, offering up the antidote to his H-Ray despite being surrounded by what I have to assume he considers expendable goons.

antidote
For starters, I haven’t washed my hands all day!
hate escape
C’mon Fury, it’s villain 101 to have a wall you can drop down to block the heroes.

The Hate-Monger slips away, promising to carry out his plans sooner rather than later. Fury gives pursuit while Reed heads out to track down his teammates to give them the antidote. He finds them running amok in the San Gusto countryside, on both sides of the conflict. Who knows what atrocities they’ve been committing under the influence of the H-Ray? One by one, he frees them from the Hate-Monger’s influence.

sue cured
Still not sure if Sue was really affected.

Meanwhile, Nick Fury is basically saving the day by himself like a boss.

fury attackAll seems lost! Then the team shows up to save Fury’s bacon. The Hate-Monger isn’t through yet, though, and trains his H-Ray on Johnny!

hate backfireDisaster for the Hate-Monger! Sue was quick with the moves when her people were in trouble, but then stands around while this happens.

hate defeatGunned down by his own men under the influence of his hate technology! O cruel irony! But who is the mysterious man under the hood?

hitlerOh snap, it’s none other than history’s greatest monster! A rare moment of surprise from Fury there, who in the future will come to be the guy who knows pretty much everything in advance. Reed advises skepticism, though.

america
Even back then you could just pick up any phone and talk to shadowy secret organizations without dialing a number.

Hitler body doubles were definitely a thing, though I don’t think we know how many he had or how many survived the end of the war. And how many would keep up the act after the war? Certainly none of the smart ones.

Marvel would take the decoy idea to its logical extreme over the coming years, featuring stories with not just lookalikes but actual clones of the man, often with Hitler’s actual mind having been transferred into them. I’d bet good money that there’s at least one “Hitler’s Brain in a Robot” story floating around in the Marvel Universe. For a generation whose dads fought against this guy, or who actually did fight against him, that must have been pretty powerful.

The issue ends with a flag-waving declaration that America is too good for such sentiments, but cautions that we must be ever vigilant. It’s grating to see this kind of heavy-handed jingoism in this era of staggering inequality and racism and the issue ends on a sour note for me. The issue comes off as little more than pure propaganda, especially with the “pure” intentions the CIA is credited with regarding a small South American nation.

It’s also not quite what you’d expect from a Nick Fury story. Future Fury tales will become increasingly bitter and cynical (check out the recent and incredibly good, brutal Fury MAX series for great examples) toward this kind of blind patriotism.

I will say this though: it’s a great guest appearance. Fury actually gets in on the action in a big way, assembling the team and saving the day in various ways. He gets to highlight his skills (ethically dubious as they sometimes are) and proves himself a valuable ally. It’s a complete 180-degrees from previous guest stars, who were either actively working against the team (Hulk) or completely unnecessary (Ant-Man).

Next time: the return of a favorite old foe! And a member of the team levels up!

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