Thursday, August 19, 2010

71: Fantastic Four #17

Fantastic Four #17
May 9, 1963

  • With regards to utility, the cover to this issue has a great layout, effortlessly showcasing separate scenes of personal peril - but the threats in question are some of the least exciting dangers they could show. "The menace of the moving bars"? "The threat of the whirling cement"?! Yawn. And yet, having grown up on John Byrne's Fantastic Four comics of the 1980s, I can't help but theorize that this issue might have been an childhood favorite or formative influence on the later writer/artist: Not only does he recreate the cover for his own purposes nineteen years later - note the identical sequencing of the four characters, with (the real) Doom at the center - but Byrne would also invoke the Doomship-disguised-as-cloud device the following year, in the opening act of #259.

    Sonar heat waves?!  Um.  Yes.  Torch, there may be a reason
    you're not picking anything up....

  • In many ways, the awesome villainy of Doctor Doom was apparent from his first appearance, while in other respects he would seem ... less than grandiose. Here, for instance, we see him slowly inch closer to the inventive, power-mad dictator we would know him to be - and yet there are missteps as well. Early on, each of the four gets a diabolical plastic disc attached to their wrists ... but the mischief is delivered by a Baxter Building janitor, who is Victor Von Doom in disguise. Now, confess: Can you see the haughty, arrogant Doom throwing on a pair of overalls and a fake beard? Yeah, me neither. The next stage of his plan comes about when four disturbingly serene marshmallow-men, floating six feet overhead, home in on each member of the team, annoying any and all civilians around ... and that's it. Spying on them from a distance, Doom gloats in triumph that the first phase of his scheme has ended, as he "only intended to embarrass and confuse them!" And, heaven help us all, the look of triumph on his metal face is bizarrely exultant.

    Disturbing Love Scene.
    In more ways than one.

  • In discussing the previous issue, reader Asbestos Man disagreed with my assertion that we seemed to have reached the first two-parter - and, having now read the next one, I'm inclined to agree. Just as the end of FF #3 led into the separate story to be found in #4, so too does their search for Doom this issue have really quite little to do with his escape in the last. However, this isn't a bad thing. On the one hand, yes, our curiosity may be eager to see the first wholly-distinct story large enough - wild enough - to actually require a second issue's space to tell it. And yet the economy of storytelling used in these Silver Age Marvels is damned impressive - especially to a reader accustomed to the modern comic's need for six-to-eight issues to tell a single tale - and the ability to deliver a satisfying conclusion and then employ a cliffhanging link to a second, distinct story is a narrative device that seems to have fallen out of fashion. Much, I think, to our loss.

    Some of Doctor Doom's goofiest faces.
    How does he get the metal to do that?

  • Old-time readers know that letters pages used to be the norm in comic books, unlike the rarity they are today. So it was something of a surprise to discover that, in these early days of Marvel, they were just as scarce. To address this, an editorial note some issues back announced that readers should therefore feel free to send their thoughts and notes on all of Marvel's assembled comics to the letters page in The Fantastic Four - a suggestion the readership quickly took to heart. By the same token, Stan began dropping in comments and hints about their other comics as well, as an early forebear of the later "Bullpen Bulletins". Here, for instance, Stan mentions in one item that although they had cancelled The Hulk because "we felt we were spreading ourselves too thin", they had since been besieged by countless pleas requesting his return - though they didn't yet know how, or when, or where. Two bullet points later, however, Stan also mentions that they're already planning new comic mags, buoyed by their recent success. If a canny reader were to wonder if those two announcements were at all connected, he might not be too wrong....

    Ben Grimm heads off to fertilize the egg.