I will say this for this issue: it is batshit crazy.
December of 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The last issue of the year!
The Fantastic Four, in deep financial debt, are breaking up. This is, of course (apparently), just the opportunity that Namor has been looking for. Might he finally exact revenge for…whatever it is he’s angry about? Okay, fine, Namor has no real beef with the FF by any stretch of the word. We all know what he really wants.
So what’s happening with our favorite heroes?
I think this story was referenced in Kurt Busiek’s Marvels, and I believe a similar story was done in the Marvel Knights FF book about 10 years ago (which I didn’t read, but heard was pretty good). In Marvels, the main character of that book laments how people are treating the Fantastic Four, kicking them out of their home, completely ungrateful for the good work they’ve done. It’s totally understandable! Who the hell are these jerks? (And why was Reed farming out electronics work anyway?)
Of note: this is the first appearance of the Fantastic Four reception desk. In recent stories it’s manned by a holographic receptionist, and placed in the lobby of the building. The FF don’t own the entire Baxter Building, as far as I know, so I have to assume this is probably on the lowest level of their part of the building, which suggests the secret elevator that Sue took a few episodes back is now publicly accessible. It’s possible, though, that it’s just been opened up for the creditors and movers to get in.
So what happened? Reed explains that a stock market crash has cost them all their money. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over Reed’s incompetent handling of the Fantastic finances. In the background, men are dismantling the Pogo Plane.
In fact, there was a stock market crash in 1962! The first half of the year was marked by a sharp decline of stocks, after decades of steady rise and expansion, punctuated by a sudden drop at the end of May. All in all it was a pretty uneventful and the market gradually made up the lost ground, continuing to produce mass amounts of imaginary money until the next time the market corrected itself or the gremlins chewed off the wing or whatever the hell it is that happens in stock market crashes. IBM in particular, which seems like a stock Reed would buy, went from about $600 in December of 1961 to about $355 at the time of the crash. Ouch!
A furious Thing storms off to pay a visit to his new friend, Alicia (who still doesn’t have a last name)!
Alicia is so sweet you can’t help but like her. She also has a distinct voice, which is pretty remarkable for a Silver Age character who isn’t a villain. Among the FF, Thing is the only one so far who actually has a strong dialogue style. Sue generally sounds like a stock issue housewife who happens to have super powers, Reed sounds like any random comic book passerby, and Johnny isn’t much better. On top of that, Alicia here has a hobby, even if it is, creepily, the same that her criminal (now deceased?) stepfather enjoyed. In just a handful of panels, Alicia has managed to gain more personality than Susan Storm has over 9 issues. She cheers Ben up and sends him packing back to his teammates.
The team has been offered a possible reprieve, from a mysterious stranger! Who could be the mysterious owner of S.M. Studios?
Trust me when I say this will not be the most bizarre twist this issue’s story will take.
Also Johnny likes to stand around the apartment on fire for no reason.
Having at this point literally nothing left to lose, the team decides to stay together long enough to give Hollywood a chance to save them. But how do they get all the way across the country to Los Angeles?
This is, sadly, the only panel we get of their journey. Broke superheroes begging their way cross-country would make a great road-trip adventure and easily provide fodder for a couple issues’ worth of stories.
I’m sure the various actors they spot around S.M. Studios are based on real celebrities, but I’m not saavy enough in my ’50s- and ’60s-era actors to really spot them all. That’s Hitchcock, obviously, and I’m sure the cowboy is John Wayne. Another panel features Bob Hope, and there are a couple others I don’t recognize but look vaguely familiar. I’d guess the lady in red is Maureen O’Hara (the first non-blonde we’ve seen in the book).
And who should they find in the producer’s office?
Gasp! Namor explains that, out of extraordinary boredom, he’s used the wealth of his (still missing and presumed dead?) people, gathered from shipwrecks and pirate loot over the centuries, to buy a studio and use it to make a movie about the Fantastic Four. He hands them stacks of cash to fulfill his end of the deal. The Fantastic Four don’t bother asking why he would do this.
Namor gives them the weekend off before shooting starts. Johnny gets laid.
Thing goes to “Muscle Beach” to relax and is somehow surprised by what he finds. Proceeds to nearly murder them all, in standard Ben Grimm fashion.
We see Reed at a tailor, getting fitted for a nice new suit. Apparently this takes up all his time. Where’s Sue, you might ask?
Thinking about how he nearly wiped out New York City? About how he threatened to destroy humanity if she didn’t become his wife? About how he teamed up with Doctor Doom and nearly got you all hurled into the sun?
Well, it’s good that somebody asked anyway.
First day of the shoot! Namor takes each member of the team out individually to shoot their scenes. First up is Mr. Fantastic! Namor has brought Reed to the mysterious Hidden Isle, where he is to battle a mechanical…well, you’ll see.
Once Reed is off the ship, Namor takes a moment to gloat about how well his plan is working – the whole thing is a sham, and he doesn’t expect Mr. Fantastic to ever leave the island alive! Namor sails away, abandoning Reed to his fate.
That’s right, it’s the Cyclops of legend (he still has his eye, though, so now the entire Odyssey is cast in doubt). Reed defeats the living myth pretty handily in a fun display of his powers, flattening under a hurled boulder, slingshotting another, and then tripping the giant into a convenient nearby pit.
Namor takes the Human Torch deep into an African jungle. You can imagine where it goes from there.
I’ve never been quite comfortable with Marvel’s general depiction of Africa. Even Wakanda (which we’ll see eventually), a beacon of high civilization and advanced technology on the continent, is filled with guys dressed in animal skins and toting spears. It would be like going to Scotland and expecting everyone to dress in kilts. Will there be a few, and will the modern fashions be influenced by the old ways of dress? Sure, it’s the heritage. But when it’s the only representation of the people it smacks of stereotypes and racism.
At any rate, these tribesmen have a potion that renders them immune to fire, putting Johnny in a tough spot. There’s an active volcano nearby, though, and Johnny manages to set it off, destroying the village and their potions (luckily for him, the villagers escape, saving the Human Torch from becoming a genocidal maniac).
It’s hard to pick who’s the greater villain in this scenario: Namor, for dropping Johnny into the middle of this tribe and setting everyone up for disaster; Johnny, who could have simply flown away and escaped without hurting anyone; or the xenophobic natives, who are willing to kill anyone who steps into their territory. Also, how many lives could have been saved with that fire-proof potion? Wasted potential!
Namor’s plan for Thing is quite simple:
Oh man! This turns into a brutal slug-fest, neither one backing down. Namor clearly has the upper hand, repeated smashing Thing down into the surf, but Ben has heart to spare, standing back up every time. Finally, Ben figures that it must be contact with the water that’s giving the Sub-Mariner his strength, and endeavors to drag the prince onto the beach, away from the sea.
I love this first shot, as though Namor were attempting to fly away but Thing grabs him by the belt to pull him back down. Ben has some great lines in this brawl, too. Overall, this is a really fun fight, but Namor seems to be expressing a lot more enmity toward the team, and Thing here in particular, than seems warranted. It’s especially jarring after his actions at the end of Issue 6, where he came off as pretty heroic and level-headed.
The lightning bolt has an unexpected effect on Thing! This seems to happen a lot in these early issues.
Thus human again, Namor lays him out pretty easily. Stan goes to great lengths to point out that it’s dark, and that Namor, in the heat of the battle, still dazed from the beating he’s received, doesn’t notice that Thing has changed, implying that he would have gone easier on the soft-skinned version of Ben. They’re doing their best to shoehorn Namor into this villainous role while still give him lots of outs to be not such a bad guy. It’s weird and conflicting and makes it hard to pin down Namor as a character, unless you want to pin him down as an unhinged lunatic. Is that what’s happened? Has the apparent slaughter of his people and destruction of his kingdom driven him mad?
Now that he’s defeated the dudes, Namor can move in on his real target.
Uh, no Sue. You should never have answered him differently. Sue resists and Namor puts on his best Continental impersonation.
This whole thing is a super date-rapey situation, the kind of thing you’d expect in a video game, and it firmly entrenches Namor into the villain realm, even if the creative team seems loathe to do so. Maybe this is the inevitable result of having only one female lead in the book? Namor is simply incapable of taking her rejection. There have been way too many stories like this in the news lately. This is one of those moments where it’s particularly frustrating that Sue hasn’t grown into the greater powerset she gains later, as modern Sue Storm would have no trouble beating the shit out of this MRA wannabe.
The boys show up just in time to save her (Thing reverted to his rocky form at some point off panel I guess, and we don’t know how Reed returned from Hidden Isle, but that’s neither here nor there). This is where things get even more problematic and frustrating.
I don’t even know what to make of Sue during this whole thing.
Then she presents the idea that they have a deal with Namor, one that they’ve held up, and that he still needs to come through on his end.
I suppose her solution is, at least, practical. She knows that he has his own system of honor and that, if given the opportunity, he’ll do the right thing. Pummeling him senseless would likely have just resulted in the whole Hollywood trip being wasted. So I guess her actions could be seen as effectively taking one for the team, swallowing her pride and putting their financial situation ahead of whatever personal beef she might have with the undersea prince.
But then there’s that weird twist back toward the noble and heroic that they keep trying to make with Namor. Sue is excusing his actions, blaming them on love and not on the violent display of dominance that they really are. His actions are inexcusable, and yet she lets him get away with it. It is troubling!
I’m not saying this couldn’t be a great story. Far from it! But the storytelling lacks the necessary nuance and the characters really aren’t developed enough at this point to pull off this tale. The intended audience of the time was way too young and unsophisticated. I could imagine a modern retelling of this working really well.
Next time: The return of DOOM! And the Fantastic Four meet their makers!