Fantastic Four #9   Leave a comment

Fantastic Four #9

This is the first issue of Fantastic Four with actual credits, which is refreshing. I think everybody who works on a book should get credit for their contributions. The credits aren’t as extensive as they are these days, but it’s a nice start:

Script: Stan Lee

Art: Jack kirby

Inking: Dick Ayers

Lettering: Art Simek

SYNOPSIS:

We begin our story this issue with a very bizarre scene: Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is in his deserted hidden undersea kingdom watching television. Yes, Atlantis was destroyed by atomic testing, all of his subjects vanished to save their lives, but for some reason, he still manages to get reception on his underwater television set. I guess even Namor can’t spend all of his time talking to fish and staring longingly at his framed photograph of Susan storm.

Namor sees on the news that the Fantastic Four are bankrupt and will be splitting up and selling all of their possessions to pay their debts. It turns out, this is just the type of opportunity Namor has been waiting for.

We then see the FF in their home at the Baxter Building, where they are being harassed by a bunch of creditors and various people they owe money to. It turns out Reed made a fortune by selling the patents to his amazing inventions, but he then invested it in the stock market and the market cashed, wiping them out. So while Reed is the smartest person on the planet, if not the universe, even he can’t understand stocks and investment. The Thing berates him for being a big shot and wasting their fortune, and Reed warns him not to push it, or else Reed will reach his breaking point. The other members of the FF try to think of ways to earn money, but Reed tells them the only way is to disband and sell their inventions and property to make money. I get why selling the Pogo Plane and the Baxter Building would get them a bunch of money so they could pay their bills, but I have no idea why they would also have to disband. I think Stan Lee just liked the idea that the FF were constantly on the verge of breaking up.

Ben throws his usual temper tantrum and storms out, deciding he is better off without them anyway. He tries to hail a cab, but the cab driver says he knows the FF don’t have a penny to their name, and he isn’t going to get stuck with the taxi fair when The Thing doesn’t pay his bill. Ben gets mad and picks the cab up, twirling it overhead and terrorizing the driver. He then impales the cab on a big clock on a pole, destroying it. If the driver didn’t think Ben had the money for a trip downtown, I wonder how he thinks he’s going to get the money to ay for a new cab, plus lawyer fees, and whatever other damages Thing will have to pay for pain and suffering.

Not getting a ride from a cab, Thing fires the FF flare gun, summoning Johnny in a section of the Fantasticar. Ben is glad that the Fantasticar didn’t get sold yet, because he needs a ride. I am guessing Ben has never heard of the subway.

Later, Ben is in the apartment of Alicia, who we met last issue. it seems the two have struck up a friendship. Alicia made a doll of a white night for Ben, because she knows he is noble and kind and would never desert his friends. Ben says that even though Alicia is blind, she sees things much better than he does, and he feels ashamed for how he acted. He returns to the FF just as the get a telegram asking them to star in a movie, for which they will be paid a million dollars. This money would allow them to pay off their bills and get a fresh start, so they agree to go to Hollywood to do it. They have no transportation anymore (I’m assuming the Fantasticar was sold in the last 20 minutes) and traveling cross-country is expensive, so they do what any band of super-heroes in 1962 would do: they take to the highway and stick out their thumbs!

The FF arrive in Hollywood at the newly form “SM Studios,” (Get it?) and mingle with some Hollywood stars. Jackie Gleason shows them they way to the main office, where they discover the big shot producer who hired them is none other than Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner! It turns out that Namor has access to all the wealth of the sea, such as buried treasure, sunken ships, etc. He is LOADED! In his boredom, he decided to form a movie studio and make a movie about the Fantastic Four. Sue is taken in by his confidence, reminding readers the two have a strong attraction to each other.

Namor gives the FF partial payment for their starring roles, and the money seems genuine. Johnny immediately rushes out and buys a fancy sports car. Apparently, Johnny has learned nothing about fiscal responsibility. Mere hours before, the FF was bankrupt and ready to disband. They finally get some cash and instead of getting their operation up and running, Johnny buys a fancy ride and goes out to pick up chicks in Hollywood. Typical Johnny attitude! Torch gets a bunch of girls to go riding with him, but he won’t tell them his name or who he is. This doesn’t stop the girls from getting in the car with him. The world was a very different place in 1962. They cruise around a while, but when they see the road ahead is unpaved, Johnny Storm does his typical showboating and shoots fireballs out in front of him, paving the road himself! The girls realize he is The Human Torch and that makes him even better than the movie star they thought he was! This is another step towards the FF being portrayed as huge super-stars n the world.

Ben goes to the beach, but the other people having fun annoys him, so he gathers them all up in his arms and tosses them into the ocean. Meanwhile, Sue dines with Namor, who avoids the question of why he is being so helpful to the FF. Sue, being her usual inquisitive self, doesn’t press the issue, and just finishes her meal while making pupy eyes at the Prince of Atlantis.

The next day, the FF set sail on a boat for “Hidden Isle,” which really should have changed its name once Namor found out. Subby tells Reed that he is going to go battle a mechanical Cyclops on the island and Namor will film it from the boat with a telescopic lens. Reed stretches over to the island to discover the Cyclops isn’t mechanical at all, but a real Cyclops! A really cool fight scene occurs at this point, as Reed uses his elastic body to combat the towering giant. Cyclops smashes Reed with a boulder, but all it does is flatten Mr. Fantastic, doing no real damage. Reed then position himself between two tall rocks, and Cyclops throws another boulder. Reed absorbs the giant rock with his stretchy body and slingshots it back at the Cyclops. Enraged, the giant charges at Reed, but Mr. Fantastic again uses his stretchy body to trip up the giant, sending him falling down into a huge pit.

Next up is Johnny’s turn. Namor drops him on an island, where he is instructed to do battle with a group of natives. What Johnny doesn’t know is that the people of this particular island have a magic potion that makes them immune to fire! Namor, instead of using this knowledge to help the world combat the threat of fires, decided to keep it a secret in case he ever needed to hatch an elaborate ruse to kill the Human Torch.

Johnny flames on, but the natives are not afraid of his fire. With nothing else to do, Johnny just flies around until his flame dies out, and which point he is taken captive. While he is a gigantic cage, the natives mix up a new batch of magic potion and then show off their fire resistant skills, walking through flames and swallowing fire. I guess just being unharmed by The Human Torch’s flame wasn’t proof enough. Having witnessed this spectacle, Johnny has passed enough time to recharge his flame and has some tricks of his own to show off.

Johnny flames back on, destroying the bamboo cage he was held in. He then makes a bunch of flame duplicates of himself, and the natives can’t figure out which one is the real Torch (hint: it’s the one that’s talking.) Johnny can’t combat them directly, so instead he flies into a smoldering volcano, making it erupt and flood the island with molten lava. If you can’t battle a group of people the next best thing to do is destroy their entire civilization and the secret of their flame resistant magic potion. Great decision, Johnny!

Its now time for The Thing’s big scene, which is a fight on the beach with Namor himself! Ben asks what makes Namor think he can win a fight with the Thing. Besides the fact that Namor kicked the crap out of the entire FF a few issues ago that is. For an answer, Namor punches Ben in the face, knocking him for a loop. Namor pummels Ben over and over again, beating him senseless. Ben wonders why Namor never gets tired from handing out the ass-kicking of a lifetime, before realizing the water keeps Namor strong. Ben isn’t the quickest thinker around and it takes him a few panels of getting beaten half to death to figure out that the Prince of Atlantis likes the water.

Ben drags Namor away from the surf and starts to get the upper hand. Weakened by the lack of water, Namor starts to lose as thing belts him with a huge right cross. Just then, in a bizarre twist of fate, The Thing is hit by a huge bolt of lightning! The Thing, not killed by the bolt, is instead transformed back into his human form! Now a normal human, he is easily knocked unconscious by a weakened Namor, who leaves his foe on the beach as he staggers off to find water and recharge his strength.

Namor goes back to his movie studio and meets Sue, who has been sitting around waiting for the others to return. Namor informs her that he has triumphed over them all! He then unveils his master plan: Namor wanted to dispose of the rest of the FF so that Sue would be free to marry him! Susan tells Namor if he was just honest about his feelings and didn’t go through this huge charade, she might have said yes, but she will fight Namor for what he did to the rest of the Fantastic Four. Some women just don’t appreciate romantic gestures!

Namor uses “all of the powers of the creatures of the sea” to combat Sue, charging the air with electricity and using a deep sea radar sense to locate her invisible form. Just as he captures her and says he likes a woman who fights back (the creepy rapist that he is), the rest of the FF burst into the room, arguing with each other in true Fantastic Fur fashion over over who gets to hit Namor first.

Just as the guys are about to pummel Namor, Sue jumps in front of him, stopping them. She says what he did, he did for love. Plus, it is three against one and they have never ganged up anyone before. Except, or course, in every single issue of the Fantastic Four so far when the FF ganged up on the villain in that issue. Sue is always confused about things when Namor is around.

Namor promises to live up to his end of the bargain. He will finish the movie and they will get paid. Namor wanders off into the ocean, heartbroken, as the FF celebrate that they are stars of a huge hit movie and now have the money to continue their wacky adventures!

COMMENTS:

We get another page in this issue of Johnny explaining his powers to us. He says he can fly because the intense heat that surrounds his body when he flames on makes his molecules lighter than air. He also says water is his biggest enemy and he studies weather patterns to make sure he doesn’t fly into a rain storm. He practices constantly, running obstacle courses and trying to be as observant as possible, so he can help the FF with missions from his aerial vantage point. He also says he can reach speeds so fast that he can create a sonic boom, so he is careful not to fly that fast over populated areas. Johnny also explains that his flame can only burn for a limited amount of time and the hotter he burns and faster he flies, the sooner it burns out.

In the early days of the FF, Johnny was clearly the most most powerful member of the team. His flame was always able to stop Ben in their usual brawls and it was usually the most feared weapon by their opponents. marvel got a lot of fan mail supporting the Torch as a favorite character and he is clearly being made out to be the star of the book. As time went on, the focus would shift more toward The Thing, but for the first year or so, The Human Torch seemed to be the most prominent member of the Fantastic Four.

This is a very interesting story, with the plot point of the FF being bankrupt being particularly great. Having a big, high-tech secret headquarters and fantastic inventions and vehicles costs a fortune, and beating up the Mole Man doesn’t exactly earn you top dollar. It’s stories like this one that made the Fantastic Four so much more realistic than the competition’s super hero books. The Justice League of America never got notices from the electric company they were behind on their bill. But the FF not only had money problems, they had creditors beating down their door and chasing them into the streets!

The relationship between Namor and Sue is also a terrific touch. Namor truly does love Sue and she has strong feelings for him, too. In fact,  her feelings are so strong for him that she would have considered being his bride if he hadn’t beat up her friends to try to win her hand in marriage. This is a woman who is supposedly engaged to Reed Richards, yet she never shows the type of passion and longing for Reed that she does for Namor, at least in these early issues.

Namor is the perfect example of a Marvel style villain. He isn’t really evil just for the sake of being evil, like other comic book villains up to that point. He really isn’t evil at all. He just lives by different moral standards than humanity. He wasn’t trying to take over the world, he was just trying to marry the woman he loves. He doesn’t have real animosity towards the FF, he just sees them as obstacles in the way of getting what he wants and so he feels he has to eliminate them to win Sue. If his crazy plan had worked, he wouldn’t have gone on to conquer the world, he would have just lived happily ever after with Susan, probably spending his vast wealth on whatever she wanted.

This type of complexity and depth of character was something very new in comics. before the Fantastic Four came along, villains were evil basically because the writer needed them to be. But what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did was create more believable characters, with real motivations and emotions and complex thoughts. No matter that Namor has wondrous super-powers, he is still a far more human character than wat we have seen in the past.

The solicitation for the next issue mentions the Fantastic Four’s “incredible exploits and won-to-earth realism,” and that is a great description. Yes, the FF and their foes have amazing powers and incredible adventures, but it is al grounded in a realistic world that is far more similar to our own than comics had ever seen before.

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