Thursday, November 18, 2010

87: Fantastic Four #19

Fantastic Four #19
July 9, 1963

  • Hey kids - it's Time Travel Time! And it's spurred in a most unusual way, for when Reed & Sue visit a museum for his research on Egyptology, he spies a set of hieroglyphics which shows a radioactive herb capable of curing blindness. (Quite how radioactivity is conveyed in a hieroglyph is unclear.) Realizing that the secret to this mystery could benefit both the world and the Thing's blind girlfriend Alicia, Reed whisks the team off to ancient Egypt! Not only is this further proof of the cementing of Alicia as a new part of this most unusual family, but it also shows further evidence of Stan's commitment to listening to his readers. "If Reed is so smart," the average reader has always wondered, "then why can't he cure Alicia's blindness?" Only a year after she was first introduced, Stan's endeavoring to answer that very thing.

    You've gotta hand it to him: That guy sure knows how to make an entrance!


  • In any other comic, the writer might have made up some all-new brand of hokum to whisk his heroes thousands of years back in time. But here, with Stan writing the book? No need! After all, the FF have already experienced the wonders of time travel, the very first time they faced Doctor Doom. With Stan's realization over the past year about how much their readers responded to a sense of continuity and references to past stories, it's an easy leap to have the FF simply head over to Doom's castle (now abandoned) and utilize the time-travel device he previously used to send them back for Blackbeard's treasure.

    Despite the compelling idea of a time-traveler hiding in Earth's past,
    Rama-Tut would hardly be seen again.  At least not in
    that form....


  • And so we have the villainy of Rama-Tut - not just a "Mad Pharaoh", as recently faced Iron Man, but a man from the future! (Although note that, differences aside, they are both time-travelling pharaohs - and mere months apart! Nick Caputo points out a certain movie that appeared around this time, so that could have something to do with it.) But who IS he, really? The FF speculate that he could be a descendant of Doctor Doom's, or even a long-lived Doom himself, but the question would remain unresolved ... for now. That said, this particular time-travel story is noteable for having been revisited again and again over the years: 1982's Doctor Strange #53 reveals Stephen Strange as having had a hand in some of the odder developments in this tale, while 1987's West Coast Avengers #22 showed the WCA visiting the events of both the FF and Doctor Strange! Reed and company had no idea how crowded the place was....

    Kirby often employed this technique, showing the same scene changed over time.
    And marvel at how The Thing turns back to human, almost as if by
    magic...!


  • Finally, a fun bonus in the issue is finding in the letters page a piece of fan mail from 16-year old Steve Gerber - and surprisingly, complaining about the art! "I've never seen a worse artist combination than Kirby and Ditko," he grouses about FF #13. "Both are great alone, but please, let's not team them up again." The estimable Mr. Gerber passed away in 2008, and his talent is sorely missed - but his legacy lives on, through his own creations such as the enduring strangeness of Howard the Duck, as well as especially memorable runs on The Defenders and Guardians of the Galaxy. And hey, I figure if someone as talented as Steve could be so drastically thrown by his first glipmse of the Kirby/Ditko pairing ... perhaps my own reaction to the same can be forgiven too!

    And off the Pharaoh goes, towards a chance encounter with the FF's greatest foe.
    But that's a tale for another day....