Our first super-villain team up!
September of 1962, by Stan and Jack. I’ve noticed this book actually comes out every 2 months (a 6-week schedule, maybe?). I’d always assumed these old books would be churned out as monthlies, but I guess this is what happens when you’ve only got a single writer and a few artists. There’s Doom’s curiously green armor again!
I didn’t mention it last time, but with Issue 5 they dropped completely the idea that the Fantastic Four’s base of operations is a secret. Doom obviously found their home with no trouble, and they no longer refer to as a “secret” base at all. In the letter column they even mock the idea as though they’d never suggested it.
So this issue opens with some public sightings of the Human Torch and then the Invisible Woman as they head home.
Some of the locals don’t even believe they’re real, which I suppose is feasible. You could simply believe that it was the army that fought off the giant monster in issue 4, for example. “Man on the street” scenes like this are great chaff for great books like Marvels years later.
We follow Sue as she blunders her way through this crowd, with her thoughts providing information on the team’s current operation.
They’re hunting for Doctor Doom! Understandable. The FF’s building gets its name this issue, right in this very panel: the Baxter Building, which will become one of the great landmarks of the Marvel U for quite some time (until they move into Four Freedoms Plaza later).
Of note: I actually had to look up “distaff,” being a term I’ve heard from time to time but never really understood, and discovered it’s an archaic term for the maternal side of a family (or more generally, a woman’s domain). The paternal side of that coin is “sword side” or “spear”, depending on which murder device that looks like a dick is your favorite.
The issue spends a few panels showing us the secret (well, in plain view but locked) elevator that the non-flying members of the team use to get into the headquarters. Sue uses her belt buckle to throw “an invisible beam on the electric eye” of the elevator. Electronic locks are commonplace now, of course, but would have been pretty much magic in 1962 I guess. We’re then treated to a slightly revised version of the schematic we got back in Issue 3.
It’s kind of funny – reading back on this now, as a reader from the distant future, I know that Reed builds all this stuff, that he’s a scientific genius, that his patents pay for all of it, etc. But just based on what I’ve read so far, the kids reading this back then would have been completely clueless. Everything here is extrapolated from just a little tiny bit that you get in the first issue – we know Reed is a doctor (of something) and occasionally he reads something off a piece of machinery. He smokes a pipe, so we can assume he uses those laboratories and the other high-tech stuff, but for all we know it could be Sue and Ben. Ben was, after all, the guy who flew the rocket back in the first issue, and who also knew the cosmic rays were bad news. We don’t know Sue’s role at all, except she was pushing to go to space more than anyone else back in Issue 1, so she’s just as likely to be a scientist as Reed. Except, of course, this is 1962. It was probably assumed that the readers would understand that Reed, clearly being the thinking man in the group, would be the scientific genius and responsible for building all these gadgets.
Turns out Johnny hasn’t made any headway on finding Doom. But that’s fine, we get some pretty cute scenes here. First, Mister Fantastic is catching up on fan mail when he comes upon one from a boy who happens to be hospitalized just across the street. Reed stretches out the window and gives the kid a visit, which is pretty awesome and gives us our first mention, as I predicted, of the famous unstable molecule. I’m assuming they were getting loads of letters about this very subject.
Since Sue made the outfits (back in Issue 3, natch), does that mean she invented the unstable molecule?
Another legend of the FF gets dropped in here as well.
After this bit of showmanship, Thing laments that he doesn’t have any foes worthy of his strength.
Besides the standard, heavy-handed foreshadowing that we get in every issue, this panel has an interesting bit of set-up for Sue. Despite the way Namor threatened to more or less exterminate the human race unless she left to become his undersea booty call, she’s still sympathetic toward him. I think I covered some of the reasons for and against that pretty well before, so I won’t go over it again too much. I want to be on her side on this, and I feel like, if she’d gotten to spend time with him the way Johnny did in that issue it would work. But as it stands I fear it’s always going to be a flawed desire on her part.
Anyway, we cut away to find what Namor has been up to. So torn by the loss of his home and people, his pride stung by defeat at the hands of the Fantastic Four, we find the sometime hero, sometime villain, always noble Prince (surely he’s actually a king, right?) Namor…
…obviously stricken with worry over his missing people.
Enter Doctor Doom!
These early FF issues are a great example of how fictional science and technology is so much a product of its time. Most of what’s supposed to be super impressive technology in these comics is vehicles – jets, rockets, personal jet packs, orbital planes. Doom’s aerosub here is a plane that can go underwater, surely built specifically to track down Namor (there’s no explanation as to why he’s flying above the water to conduct his search, but that’s neither here nor there). If you think about what was happening in the ’60s it makes sense – everything was about vehicles. The space race was in full swing. Stainless steel RVs were wonder-homes of the future. Being an airline pilot was still a damn sexy job instead of being a flying bus driver. This was the era of Chuck Yeager; half the kids reading this book probably went to a school named for a dead test pilot. In this environment it’s totally understandable why many of the gadgets are fantastic vehicles.
Turns out Namor has a sweet loft.
But Namor, what is this? This is seriously going to cramp your style!
These pages are fantastic and full of great dialogue between these two. For a guy who frequently speaks in the third person, Doom is quite perceptive regarding human interactions, and he benefits immensely from the fact that Namor doesn’t have a fucking clue as to who Doom is. Doom is concerned that Namor has given up on his mission of revenge on the surface world. We are treated to some nice shots of Atlantis in its former glory, undersea buildings that look like spiraled shells and domes of light, trafficked by sleek craft that look like models from a 1930s World’s Fair, while Doom recounts how the surface dwellers destroyed Atlantis and how difficult it will be to track down the scattered survivors, shaming Namor and prodding him until his rage flares back.
The pathos! Namor has agreed to work with Doom, as long as he doesn’t have to hurt Sue Storm. Doom demonstrates a new gadget, “the grabber”, a small cylinder that uses magnetic force to lift objects of even the most immense size, that they’ll use to confront the Fantastic Four. It seems to work on everything, not just things that have a magnetic field, but don’t you worry your pretty little heads about that!
Meanwhile, back at the Baxter Building, Johnny makes an appalling discovery while poking around the team’s library!
This is beyond embarrassing for poor Sue. Johnny burns the photo and tells the others, who demand an explanation that she can’t give. Ben gives voice to a generation of dudes who think they’ve been friend-zoned by a pretty girl. Then the tense scene is interrupted — in favor of an even more tense scene!
The team bickers for a bit, with Sue insisting that he’s just come to talk, and Johnny embarrasses himself by trying to burn a hole in the floor beneath Namor’s feet, which of course is pointless because the guy can fly, and then there’s a tiresome sequence where Reed and Johnny run off to examine the security cameras, looking for traps. Namor stands around rolling his eyes for a bit and then offers to take Sue on a tour of the city. Sue looks intrigued…but then…
(Trivia: on our honeymoon, my wife and I stayed at a hotel that’s just to the right of the lead jet’s cockpit, on the Manhattan end of the Queensboro Bridge. I guess the Air Force has grown accustomed to weird shit in New York’s airspace, because they don’t fire a single nuclear missile at them.)
Holy shit! Doom is not screwing around. He’s used the grabber to seize the entire Baxter Building, his foes trapped inside, and hauled it into space! In one fell swoop, Doom is eliminating the only people on the planet capable of stopping him. The team quickly dons space helmets, but are pretty helpless to do anything. Torch can’t flame on in space, and when Reed attempts to stretch to Doom’s ship he gets blasted by a rocket. Doom cheerfully informs them that his intention is to toss them all into the nearest convenient star!
It falls to Namor to save them all. Drawing strength from the Baxter Building’s water storage tank (is that a thing? like, not one on top of the building but inside? I suppose you could), Namor leaps from the building toward Doom’s ship, in the middle of a meteor storm no less. It’s pretty impressive.
I have to wonder when they came up with his signature battle cry (“Imperius Rex!”). Did it exist prior to this, and they just forgot? Still, the simple, repeated GO! works pretty well here. As much as the team talks of Namor as a villain, moments like this make you remember what a hero this guy is. I mean, he fought alongside Captain America against the Nazis. You don’t get to just make this guy a villain. That indomitable will! You don’t get bad guys with guts like this.
Namor makes it to Doom’s ship and smashes his way inside. There, Doom attempts to dispatch Namor with electrical blasts, only to have his plan backfire on him.
Like his communicating with the porpoises earlier, this ability to mimic an eel and redirect electricity is a power that’s new to me, and is another skill Namor will likely lose pretty quickly. Lots of that happened in the ’60s – heroes will start with a power set, then other writers will come along and trim the extra bells and whistles, or just forget about them. Thor went through a lot of this in the ’60s, with writers giving him whatever seemingly random power they needed for the story they wanted that month. I recall this happening in the early ’90s with the X-Men’s Bishop: his initial appearance had him absorbing enemy powers and then using those same powers back against them, but that was changed like the very next issue when he would merely absorb the powers and then convert them into a generic bio-energy he could blast them with. So it goes with things that are really just plot devices anyway. Some people get hung up on power sets, but it’s the least important aspect of any super character.
So Doom has been airlocked! We have to assume his suit is built to withstand the rigors of space and that he survived the ejection. He grabs a passing meteor and is carried off into space, surely never to be seen again!
Namor uses the ship to return the Baxter Building to its proper address, and our heroes track down the grabber in their basement. Reed gets to wax intellectual for a moment on the nature of genius.
Though Doom did mention his interest in the black arts this issue, much like last issue he never actually employs it.
Namor takes the grabber and Doom’s ship and unceremoniously dumps both into the ocean, which seems like…weird, right? I get he doesn’t want anyone to have it, but. Maybe just crush it? Don’t dump trash in your own back yard, man.
So there we go, our first villain team up. Doom’s manipulation and subsequent betrayal of Namor is beautiful to behold, and this pretty much becomes the model for all future Doctor Doom collaborations in the future. Trick a dude to work for you, then stab them in the back at the first opportunity. I’m pleasantly impressed by how simple Doom’s plan is, and if he hadn’t underestimated Namor’s abilities the series would have ended right here.
It’s not a great showing for our heroes. Thing’s development is that he didn’t try to murder his teammates at all. Well, he tried to kill Namor a little, but I don’t think that counts. Johnny completely blunders every use of his power in this issue, including when he tried to jump out into space and nearly died because he forgot that fire doesn’t work in a vacuum (though in general he’s closer to the impulsive hot-head we think of Johnny as being, as opposed to the thinking man he was kind of presented as in the last couple adventures). The best thing the lot of them did this issue was Reed visiting a sick kid in the hospital.
The Sue / Namor will-they-won’t-they thing is…man, I don’t know what to think. If you view his attack on New York as a momentary, grief-driven lapse of character, and take into account all his various acts of heroism over the years prior to this, it’s understandable where Sue is coming from. She knows he’s better than that, and she can see the good in him. Or is Ben correct and she just likes him for those abs? She’s been generally terrified of one of her best friends ever since he turned into the Thing, so her value as a character witness is in question. It’s a problematic characterization of the team’s only woman that could have been avoided with some more careful storytelling.
I continue to find it puzzling that there hasn’t been a single reference to Reed and Sue’s engagement since the first issue. There isn’t even a hint of romance between the pair. I don’t know if Stan just forgot about it, or was considering dropping it altogether. For the time period, especially, you would think that other men making eyes at his fiance would provoke a strong response from Reed. Or is he just so absent minded and disconnected from his emotions and those of the people around him that he genuinely didn’t notice?
NEXT TIME: Who is the Master of Planet X?!