Tuesday, January 11, 2011

102: Fantastic Four #21

Fantastic Four #21
September 10, 1963

  • Six months previous, Stan & Jack started a war comic called Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. Perhaps in a bid for legitimacy, Stan had a young Reed Richards guest star in the third issue, helping out the commandos with a vital mission during his time as a serviceman. So it's only natural that Fury return the favor, and show up in the pages of The Fantastic Four! But how, you might ask, does he get there? Does he span the twenty-year gap through some clever bit of time travel? Nope, he takes the long way around: he ages. What an inventive glimpse this must have been for fans of the Howling Commandos - to not only learn that Nick Fury survived the horrors of World War II, but to actually see how he turned out, twenty years later!

    Ah, ol' Nick Fury.  Just as modest as ever!

  • The villain this outing is the Hate-Monger, and he's just what you'd expect from the moniker. Whether fomenting unrest in a third world country or inciting crowds to riot on the streets of Manhattan, he preaches a rhetoric of hatred against differing races, class, or religions. (And note the obvious parallel of his outfit to that of the Ku Klux Klan's.) As he stokes the mob's distrust of the unlike into that of active persecution, we also can't help think of the mutant metaphor that will come to define the X-Men but hasn't yet coalesced; is this another place where the seed of that idea first began to grow? Finally, as the Hate-Monger rabble-rouses the populace against the immigrants in their midst, recall that many of the men working in comics were first- or second-generation immigrants themselves - including both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as well as Superman creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.

    I love the design in this panel: the machinery, the arcing coolant,
    the billowing smoke, the tilted perspective.  Gorgeous!

  • But this is still comics - and Stan Lee comics at that - so if there's a chance for an outrageous twist ending, you know that he'll take it. For when the Hate Monger is gunned down by his own troops (who had been accidentally doused by his own Hate Ray), the Four and Fury find that the face under the hood is that of ... Adolf Hitler! While this gives a good final revelation for the story, it also has a special resonance to Reed and (especially) Nick Fury, who had been in the service of stopping this man for several years of their lives. The catharsis must have been staggering!

    Howlin' Fury.  Just in case you thought the promotion might have
    made him too settled down and respectable.

  • A word about the art though: Starting this issue, the inks are by one George Bell, a sometimes pseudonym for inker George Roussos. I first noticed his inks a few comics back in Sgt. Fury #4, and he takes over as inker here for the next several issues as well. And I've gotta say, right off the bat - I'm not immediately a fan. Dick Ayers had been on inks most of the last fifteen issues, and seemed exactly what you'd want from an inker: a clean line, emphasizing the qualities of the penciller underneath, and never distracting or deviating too far from the base art. I can't quite say the same for George's inks here, though. (But hey, I'll cut him some slack; maybe I'll get used to it.) And even if I'm unhappy with the inks, I can't deny that Kirby's designs are getting more creative and inventive with every issue. The nuclear activators in Reed's lab, as well as the Hate-Monger's sub-surface missile, are really something to behold!

    Still, they do take care to point out that it might have been a clone or a double.
    In any case, it's not the last we'll see of the Hate-Monger....