Friday, April 24, 2009

The Return of the Frightful Four

Several days ago I wrote about the issue of the Fantastic Four that introduced the evil FF - the Frightful Four. It was an unusual issue. Panels were missing backgrounds and the comic book ended before the plot. The book looks like it was rushed out.

Two issues later the Frightful Four returned in what amounts to a do-over issue.

In the issue in between, the FF had gone to the Skrull homeworld to avenge the death of Sue's father.

The return of the EFF (Evil FF) starts with Reed examining some huge blowups of photographs he had taken the previous issue. Jack Kirby liked to incorporate unusual photographs into his artwork and used real photos.

This quickly degenerated into horseplay between Reed and Sue. The Torch left and spotted a flying man who quickly vanished.

This turned out to the the Wizard. He returned to the EFF's current hideout in upstate New York but was subdued by the Sandman then the Trapster (Paste-Pot Pete renamed himself and upgraded his weapons). The Wizard retaliated by using his anti-gravity powers to throw the other three around the cabin. This introduced the EFF to readers who missed their first appearance.

Cut to Sue who was looking at dress designs by a new designer. This turned out to be Madam Medusa. Sue was rendered unconscious and taken to a remote island where the Wizard had hidden a "Q" bomb (some sort of nuclear device).

Reed was frantic at this and used his technology to search the world. He found the EFF's ship right above the Baxter Building. The Torch flew up to investigate it but got too close and was also taken prisoner. The EFF led Reed and Ben to the island where their Pogo Plane was destroyed. The Torch was released and the two groups had a short battle.

In the meantime, Sue woke up and freed herself from the Trapster's paste bonds. The Thing heard her moving around underground and broke off the fight. While the FF was distracted the EFF left in the Wizard's ship. This left the FF trapped on an island as a nuclear device went off.

Sue's force field protected them as they were blown off of the island. The last panel showed them floating in the force field, unconscious, with the Thing turning back into Ben Grimm.

Structurally this was very similar to the earlier issue but the content was different. A lot happened here but nothing seemed rushed or glossed over. All of the panels had backgrounds, some of them ambitious. Kirby was expanding his scope, setting up for future "cosmic" issues.

This also started the era of multi-issue story arcs. The issue was self-contained but the story continued through the next two issues with a different villain (Doctor Doom).

This is an intersting structure - a three-issue arc where a villain defeats the hero in one issue followed by two issues where the hero fights a different villain. This structure had already appeared in Spider-Man. During a battle with the Green Goblin, Spider-Man heard that his aunt was sick and left the fight. In the next issue he met the Sandman but was afraid to fight him out of fear that Aunt May would be left without anyone to care for her. At the end of the second issue May gave a speech to Peter about not giving up. In the third issue he returned to crime fighting, defeating the Sandman and freeing the Human Torch who had been taken captive.

Both examples resolved the story arc but left things hanging with the original villain. This was a deft touch since it made the eventual rematch that much more exciting.

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