Page 45 Review by Stephen
Welcome back to sixteen more issues of very weird science!
See the Fantastic Four fly the Fantasti-car without first deciding on a designated driver... straight into a giant milk bottle!
Gasp as Mr. Fantastic stretches high in the sky to pluck a couple of missiles off the bottom of a fighter plane going at, oh I don't know, a thousand miles an hour!! He doesn't even have to unlock them!
Laugh as poor Johnny - the Human Torch whose flame can melt through rock and metal - is put out by a single vase of water!
"Put out of action by a plant pot!" he gasps. It's a vase, you dimwit.
"I'll never live it down!" he wails. And he won't.
It's key material, with all the regulars from The Mole Man, Doctor Doom and Diablo to Namor the Submariner making another of his oh so many seductive moves on Susan Storm. You may want to read about his first foray in FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC COLLECTION VOL 1 during which I had a field day because, honestly, distil their origin:
Saying "No, sir!" to NASA, four thieves steal a space rocket, and strangely we applaud.
The X-Men guest-star as does Dr. Strange, and even Nick Fury in what might be his first appearance as Colonel as opposed to Sergeant. He's working for the C.I.A. rather than S.H.I.E.L.D. which hadn't yet formed, and is mightily concerned about America's investment in San Gusto, a "showplace of democracy" surrounded by commies into which the US has sunk billions. Apparently the citizens are revolting, so Fury enlists the Fantastic Four's aid to interfere with yet another nation's affairs because, as he so righteously pronounces, "We couldn't interfere in another nation's affairs!"
Not until the C.I.A. or George Bush Jr. told him to, anyway.
What I haven't mentioned yet is that this is all the result of the Hate Monger who has set up shop in San Gusto before travelling to New York to spread his racial hatred in mass rallies that incite the crowd to violence. This was Stan Lee's first full issue tackling that most "un-American" of American sentiments upon which the country was virtually founded and which it has systematically practised or endorsed ever since (in an overt nod to the KKK, the Hate Monger is wearing a purple version of their cowardly cowl).
[Oh dear god, I wrote all of the above, verbatim, over a decade ago, and now we have Donald Trump as American President, praising white supremacists as "fine people", while Nazi swastikas were ignited, just the other night, in Georgia without any arrests that I'm aware of.]
Lee is, of course, to be unequivocally commended for this first and his future attempts to liberate his readers from the predominant social attitudes around them by having his heroes vocally reject racism for the poison that it is, as he went on to do in AVENGERS EPIC VOL 2. It's just a shame that it had to involve a fictional hypnotic Hate Ray, for the human race is perfectly capable of being swept away by the likes of Moseley, Trump and Hitler, the BNP, UKIP and the British Tory Party as it stands, without anything more conducive to racism than its own ignorance, ill-founded fear and desperate desire for conformity.
Where Stan Lee hasn't yet seen the light, however, is with Women's Lib. For although for the first time here Sue Storm begins to discover and experiment with turning objects other than herself invisible and utilising an extended invisible force field, she is overwhelmingly still in thrall to wigs and dresses and, well...
"You know, Reed, this measuring device to test my invisibility would make the kookiest hat!"
"Just as I thought! You have greater powers of vapidity than you suspect, Sue!"
Sorry, what he actually says is "invisibility" not "vapidity", although you can see what he's thinking. In fact you can read what he's thinking half a dozen pages later when he snaps at his go-to girlfriend:
"Just like a woman!! Everything I do is for your own good, but you're too scatterbrained to realise it!"
But wait, perhaps Stan is having a go at the dismissive male by condemning him, Jane Austen-stylee, through words from his own mouth?! Ummm... no.
"That man!!" she seethes. "I know he's right... and that's why I'm angry!"
The undoubted highlight, however, is when the Hulk hits New York in a rage of rejected jealousy when he discovers a newspaper clipping Dr. Bob Banner has left crumpled in his giant purple pants: news that The Avengers have replaced him with Captain America for whom he's been forsaken by BFF Rick Jones. If memory serves, the Hulk had actually told The Avengers to fuck off in no uncertain terms, but that Rick thing's sure gotta sting.
Unfortunately The Avengers are hunting the Hulk down in New Mexico, and as the Hulk hits town (and the town's subway system, its subway trains, its skyscrapers, its news vendors, water hydrants and anything else that gets in his way) Reed Richards succumbs to a bout of man-flu. Neither the Human Torch nor the Invisible Girl survive long under the viridian vandal's relentless assault, so the way is paved for the biggest one-on-one slug-athon so far to determine the answer to that immortalised question:
"Who is stronger, the Thing or The Hulk?"
And it is truly epic. There's a speedboat chase, a battle on top of the Washington Bridge, plus buses, buildings and electric cables all play their part as improvised hand-weapons while Ben Grimm (The Thing) valiantly soldiers on well into the second issue without a hope in hell of winning. It is, however, when The Avengers finally show up... that they get in each others' way. Of course they do!
Except Captain America who's smart on tactics, quick on his wits and, unlike the pill-popping Ant-Man / Giant Man / Amazing Identity Crisis Man, totally drug-free. Here's the Hulk:
"Try to lecture me will ya?? I'll -- Hey!! How can you move so fast??"
"Clean livin' does it, Sonny!"
Yes, the Captain is Straight Edge!
I was so impressed with that pronouncement aged 6 that I used it everywhere: in the playground, right round The Rough with my mates... even when my Mum wondered how I could possibly eat so much ice-cream: "Clean livin' does it, Sonny!"
Better still is the cover to that second issue (#26) set high on a nascent skyscraper's skeletal girders, the Hulk at its apex and Rick holding on precariously to a corner, while all nine of our colourful combatants fly or climb towards them both. Structurally, it is magnificent, Giant Man no more than twice the size of the others for fear of tipping the balance of the composition too far in his favour and destroying the framing rhomboid which moves your eye around the piece in exactly the same way as the most famous of Caravaggio's three 'David With The Head Of Goliath' paintings.
I'm not making this shit up.
Nor for once am I making this up when the raging hormone that is Johnny Storm, zapped by the Hate Ray mentioned earlier, gets his emotions confused after his sister Sue Storm douses his flame:
"Try that again, and I'll forget you're my sister -- which would be a pleasure!"
Bonus Jack Kirby cover / Caravaggio comparison point:
Follow the Torch's fiery trail from left to right, then right to left as he turns towards the Hulk; your eye then moves a little further along the girder the Hulk's holding up before dropping down towards Rick Jones then further left along the girder falling diagonally towards the street; finally Thor completes the loop as your eye moves back towards the Torch's trail and the artfully placed yellow-on-green caption at the bottom. Repeat: you won't be able to help yourself.
With Caravaggio, it's not quite a rhombus but certainly a right-angled quadrilateral similarly pitched. Follow the slant of the left-hand side of David's head down to his shoulder and thence through the shadow to the shine of the sword at its hilt; then down the length of the sword, tellingly, to the crotch; up and to the right is the object of his victory and desire, Goliath's head, then the shape is completed back up to the head via the length of the boy's visible, outstretched arm.
Contains FANTASTIC FOUR #19-32 and Annual 1-2