In November 1963 John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the idealistic era known as "Camelot" came to an end. Things become more serious. We start to see Reed's weaknesses more clearly: his arrogance that parallels Doom, and his unintentional belittling of those around him, both signs of elitism, the opposite of the American dream.
The first half of Act 2 belonged to Reed, the second half belongs to the Storm family. All their major turning points are here:
Issue by issue: civil rights
Issues 21-28 are about civil rights, and 29-42 show how this impacts
the individuals and family. This is all part of the wider theme of
FF35-39 is Sue's triumph and tragedy
...but that's not why this is one of the most popular issues of all time.
Later, in FF30 Ben has the possibility of a human appearance plus strength, but this
depends on a man he is forced by duty to oppose. Such inner
torment! By FF32 Ben is back to his desire to be human, but
neither state is ideal. The name, "the thing" is all about a
question of identity, just as the name "Mr Fantastic" is all about
The accidental formula
Why was Reed so sure that his formula was accidental and could not be repeated? Why was Ben so upset - yes, he wanted to stay for Alicia, but he never reacted like this before or after. And why was Reed sick? Sue says it's a virus, but she is not a biologist, and this is just how Reed would have explained it. But when we look at the progress of Reed's technology we see an explanation.
The last time we saw Reed using biological chemicals was his experiments with unstable molecules in FF15, experiments that led to creating an android. Two issues before this one, in FF23, Reed saw some other advanced robots, including one designed to behave exactly like the Thing. According to evidence in the notes to FF23 and FF39, this robot was probably controlled with the help of demonic power, and Reed just came into possession of it. A few months after a demoniacally controlled Thing robot. We see in FF30 that Reed suddenly decided to "accidentally" have a holiday near a man known for using chemicals to control demonic powers. Chemicals would be the only way that Reed, a physical scientist, could think of to control demons. Apparently his efforts to understand the Thing robot led to an accidental certain cure for Ben, but being demonic it could not be duplicated and had to be used quickly. Ben was too sensible top take that risk, but touching the liquid caused Reed to become very sick. None of this is certain, but it is based on Occam's razor: do not assume there are two robots or two biological experiments when one will do.
FF25-28: a guide to the Marvel Universe
FF25-28 acts as a guide to Marvel's output in 1963, the company's most creative period. These issues feature:
The other titles were all created to cash in on the success of the Fantastic Four: e.g. in Spider-man 1, Spidey tries to join the FF, and the cover to X-Men issue 1 announced it was "in the sensational Fantastic Four style!"
Other points to note
The super hero genre is unique in its ability to examine inflated
egos. Mr Fantastic is the classic example, made all the more
interesting because despite his huge ego he is a genuine hero who
sacrifices himself for others. But with Dr Doom, the Sub-Mariner,
Gregory Gideon, etc., etc., we see other huge egos for comparison.
It is then inevitable that we will see the Hulk, the biggest ego
of all, and contrast it with The Thing. The Thing is practically
as strong, but thinks he is weaker, yet will never give up; not
because he thinks he will win (as the Hulk does) but because he
believes his duty to others is more important than his own life.
Ironically the story where we see them do nothing but hit each
other is the one where we finally see the deepest inner feelings
of both characters.
In this story we see the Hulk's hidden weakness, his vanity: he
wants to believe that the Avengers cannot survive without him, and
is angered and embarrassed that he can be replaced so easily by
Captain America, someone the Hulk sees as little more than "an
acrobat." Even the world's greatest ego, the being who fears
nothing, has his hidden doubts and fears. Compare this to Reed
Richards who cannot believe the team can function without him, and
must finally lean that lesson. Notice that the Hulk is finally
defeated by a kid, Rick Jones, just as Dr Doom is finally
neutralized by the child Kristoff, and Gregory Gideon finally sees
that his son is more important than his work, just as Reed
Richards does. In this family centered story, every massive ego is
deflated by a child.
Unless credited, quotes are from the excellent review by Commander Benson
the purest comic-book story consists of a single brawl between
two super-powered heavyweights. For fans of this kind of
story, you won't find any tale better done than 'The Hulk Vs.
the Thing'. ... If someone were to ask me what the big deal was
about the early Marvel Age of Comics, these are the two issues
[FF25 and FF26] I would show him." (Benson)
"Ben Grimm’s wisecracks during the battle not only hit that right note necessary for comics-dialog humor, but it underscored the Thing’s courage. It invests Ben with a true sense of valor. His determination and refusal to quit come across as genuine human qualities, rather than just because it’s in the script. As a character, it is Ben Grimm’s finest hour." (Benson)
At the end the team holds hands: they are tired of fighting. They have no heart to defy Reed any longer, after Ben proved his worth and Reed almost died. They won't question Reed's leadership again... until act 4 when his patriarchal style proves not to work.On realism:
"One of the aspects rarely seen in a Hulk story is the effects of one of his rampages on the public at large. ...But here, we see the full force and effect on a city terrorized by the Hulk. Citizens react in varying degrees of horror, some scattering in wild panic, others rooted to the spot by fear. We see city authorities responding---marshaling forces, setting up barricades, directing an evacuation, establishing first-aid stations. The military, when called in, are shown as more than just gun-crazy soldiers. We witness the planning, the weighing of options, the discussion of how much force can be brought to bear against the Hulk without causing more death and destruction than the menace they have been called to defeat. [...] The effect of [the] interludes is a cinematic one. It gives 'The Hulk Vs. the Thing' the feeling of a superior B-movie from the 1950’s, not that far removed from a minor classic like 'Them!' Stan Lee’s script accurately portrayed a city as it would respond if such a menace as the Hulk and such heroes as the Thing existed. Nothing is incidental." (Benson)One of the most important Hulk stories ever:
A landmark issue in several ways
There is a rule with the FF: the worse the issue appears at first, the more powerful and important the story is on closer examination. This issue is a perfect example. On the surface it' "oh no, not another Namor story", with a confusing premise (is Namor in charge of his people or isn't he?), a pointless cameo (why is Dr Strange here, except to advertise his comic), and yet another "Sue as hostage" story. Most readers dislike it. but look closer, true believer. This is a landmark issue in at least three ways:
Why Atlantis again?
The Great American Novel tells the story of America via a single family. But occasionally we also need to show an actual global superpower. Atlantis fills this role, literally filling the gap between America and Europe. Note that Atlantis, like the other communist metaphors (Mole Man, Red Ghost, etc) only dominates in the early 1960s. By the mid 1960s it was clear that America could win the space race, and Russia was more advanced scientifically as it had briefly appeared when it got the first man into space. So from the mid 1960s the focus is not on America versus Russia but on science: so stories about Atlantis (the superpower), the Mole Man (underground dangers) and the Red Ghost (Stalin/Khrushchev) are gradually replaced by stories about computers (the Mad Thinker), dangerous scientists (the Wizard) and technology itself (the Negative Zone). This issue is the turning point, where Namor's attempt to kidnap Sue (representing ends)
There are obvious parallels wit the political polarization of both
Russia and America in the 1950s. Under Stalin's and McCarthy's witch
hunts, only the most extreme political positions were allowed. The only
question in politics was,
"do you sympathize with the other side in any way?" and nobody was above
suspicion. Any hint of sympathy for socialism in America or capitalism
in Russia was not tolerated.
All of this is represented by Namor: he has impeccable credentials,
as the rightful ruler, yet his own people do not trust him: he is half
human, and in love with a human: and it was humans who destroyed
Atlantis (probably deliberately: see the notes to FF 4). very few of
Namor's subjects really trust him, and when he visits Earth he has to do
so in disguise: he
did not hide his identity from the FF (he immediately announced he was
Namor), but he could not risk any Atlanteans knowing that he was
FF 27-35 is the transition period between the global and the persona. It is dominated by fairytale symbolism. Here we have the innocent girl and the handsome prince. In the next few issues we have the evil wizard in Transylvanian forests (Diablo), the troll king and his underground monsters (Mole Man), the bad parent who becomes good (Gideon), the dragon who's heart is softened by love (Dragon Man), and so on. This is all about the story of the kingdom focusing down to the story of the princess (Sue). is is where Sue gains her handsome prince. It is no accident that in order for this to happen Sue must first gain her invisible forcefields, much as the fairy tale pauper must obtain magical help in order to move forward in the story and win the prince.
Why Sue as hostage?
The fairytale motif demands that the innocent girl must be taken hostage, so in three of these six fairy tale issues Sue fills that role.
But there is a bigger reason too. Throughout history America has
presented itself as Columbia, the innocent maiden (ironically for the
most powerful nation on Earth, just as Sue is the most powerful member
of the FF). Whenever action ids required, pure hearted Columbia makes
the call. For the Great American Novel to move on, Reed must be aroused
to passion, to show once and for all that he is greater than Namor, and
for that Sue must be endangered. So it is that in this issue the
Reed-Namor question is finally resolved, and Reed wins.
This issue compares and contrasts the risk of global war with
personal relationships. The rest of this review is about the personal
angle, particularly Sue's feelings.
point here is Thing’s immediate comment: “Whataya know?! So his brain
AIN’T just a mess of test-tubes and six-syllable words!” That phrase
pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the story. Our mild-mannered
scientist, who almost never reveals his true feelings, is about to go
nuclear! Reed announces to Thing and
Torch that he’s going shopping…for an ENGAGEMENT RING! I guess in
Fantastic Four #1, when Sue describes herself as Reed’s fiancée, it was
only wishful thinking on her part. Or maybe it was a carefully crafted
plan to fluster him into allowing her to join that fateful space flight
into the cosmic rays. Or,
maybe there’s another explanation. We already know Reed is much more
comfortable using six-syllable words to talk about test tubes than he is
in making declarations of love. Perhaps in his failure to communicate,
Sue has gotten a completely erroneous idea about the state of their
[When Sue is kidnapped:]
Now Reed is in a rage. And such a rage we have never seen before! Yes, I guess our stoic scientist does have emotions, and he gives a good display of them now, flinging his elongated limbs all over the lab, as he vows to make Namor “PAY for this…with his LIFE!” Even Johnny and Thing are surprised by Reed’s outburst, reminding him to simmer down because “it’s shamefully undignified!”
[When Sue demands to be freed]
At this point, Sue is not communicating, either. When Namor says he wants 24 hours “to tell you how I love you…to ask you to be mine!!” Sue responds with “But Reed will find you! And when he does…nothing can save you!” It probably would have been better if she chose this moment to deliver her wonderful “Let’s be friends” speech from page 22, but give the girl a break. She’s been knocked out, kidnapped, held prisoner in a glass bubble at the bottom of the ocean. Certainly, she does not consider Namor a rational being who can be reasoned with, so it’s not surprising that all her thoughts are focused on what Reed will do when he finds her.
[This is where Reed and Namor finally learns to respect each other]
When he [Namor] observes that “Mr. Fantastic can explode in a fit of rage like anyone else,” he gains new respect for his rival. “Perhaps now,” Namor taunts him, “you can understand MY feelings,” citing his distress when the accursed humans caused him to lose his kingdom, his people, everything he holds dear. Are these two finally connecting on some deeper emotional level? Might they finally be coming to the realization that the other is not “the bad guy,” but that he’s also fighting, with equal conviction, for that which he holds most dear?
[Namor as a mirror for Reed]
Namor’s problem is that he thinks he’s the center of the universe. He thinks everyone has to conform to his way of thinking. And I hate to say it, but that’s Reed’s problem, also. As a rule, Reed functions from a place of science and logic, and when that’s your foundation, why would you look any further for explanation and meaning about how the world works? Reed thinks he has all the answers, and he doesn’t have patience for any mindsets that are not as enlightened as his.
“Sue, darling,” Reed begins, “about what you said back in Namor’s palace…” Dot dot dot. He’s handing her the ball. And what does she do with it? “Please, Reed! I-I’d prefer not to discuss it now! I’m still so shaken!” [...] How does Reed feel about that? We may never know. Because the lunkheaded Thing decides to butt into something that’s none of his business, asking Sue, “Hey! You didn’t just say what you did in order to prevent any more fighting, did you?” Huh? What? Why?? WHY? Why couldn’t he just keep his big mouth shut!
WHAT is going on here in the less-than-fantastic thought processes of Mr. Fantastic? Earlier in the story, he felt confident enough to buy Sue an engagement ring. He was ready to give it to her before the interruption of this little fiasco…which, by the way, ends with Sue confessing her love for him in front of EVERYONE. Now, he should feel more confident than ever, but instead, he develops feet of clay and retreats back into a place of “uncertainty and anguish,” gripping the wheel of the submarine with knitted brow.
Okay. I started out saying this was all about men’s inability to communicate, but my girl Sue, in the next to the last panel, establishes herself as the third lunkhead in this scene. “Oh, Reed, you blind fool!” she thinks, “Of course it’s you l love!! But how can I ever CONVINCE you?”
Crissy makes the perfectly reasonable suggestion! Sue should tell
him! And keep telling him until he understands! Why doesn't she? Here
are my thoughts.
Reed and autism
I argue elsewhere that Reed is probably autistic. he has trouble understanding human relationships. If so, this story suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Why did Ben interrupt at the end? I wonder if his final
interjection was calculated? My theory is that Reed is autistic (I can
give a long list of reasons). I don’t mean that in a bad way: I am
diagnosed on the spectrum myself, and Reed is my hero. I think Reed
finds relationships confusing and exhausting, and FF 27 is where the
stress reaches unbearable levels. I imagine his mind as a swirling
maelstrom of confusion, overwhelmed with too many data points. Being
overwhelmed pretty much defines autism.
Neuro-typical (NT) minds are tuned for social situations. Social situations are far more complex than most people realize: every new variable doubles the complexity, and pretty soon you have thousands of “what if”s. What if Sue does “this”? What if “that” happens? What if “X” then happens? What if, at that point, “Y” happens? NT minds quickly discard the unlikely scenarios and focus on the ones that are likely to matter. So they can carry on an emotion-laden conversation in real time, and even enjoy the stimulation! But to an autism-spectrum (AS) brain, the experience is VERY different.
To understand how Reed is feeling at the end of FF 27, imagine the
opposite situation. Imagine you were the only NT in a group of AS people
who were all electronics experts. Imagine you had a ticking bomb, and
had to defuse it in the next five seconds. (The ticking bomb for Reed is
loneliness without Sue: he cannot survive without her, as we shall see
in the 1970s, which culminates again in the oceans) To the AS experts
the bomb is absurdly simple: any child could stop it. Isn’t it obvious?
The task is fun! “Can’t you see that resistor and that NAND gate? Just
disconnect wire A”! Obviously!!! It’s so simple, just do it!!! And you
stare at the mass of wires and hear the ticking and you reach a blind
panic and have a meltdown. I think that’s how Reed feels at the end of
FF 27. He knows that his mental survival depends on saying the right
thing to Sue, he knows it is obvious to everyone else, he has to say the
right thing RIGHT NOW and he can’t cope!!!
To the AS mind each data point has equal weight until all possible scenarios are calculated, and it becomes overwhelming. Worse, when surrounded by NTs who can easily keep up, AS people have a desperate feeling of other people can see things you cannot. And they need love just as much as other people.
Ben's character development
From issue 1 to issue 13, Reed put Ben down at every opportunity, and didn't realize he was doing it. In issue 8 Ben sincerely believed that Reed hated him. But now that he has seen Reed out of his depth, he begins to feel compassion for the friend he once saw as his enemy. This is a turning point for Ben as well as for Namor and Reed.
Reed then drives home in silence. I find driving in silence is so
therapeutic. The problem with autism is the feeling of being
overwhelmed. Not knowing if you are doing the right thing, not knowing
how to respond. But when driving a car everything is well defined and
relatively simple. As long as you focus on the road (and people on the
spectrum are very good at focusing) you can forget everything else and
know you are doing The Right Thing for the duration of the journey.
Driving is very calming. Big hearted Ben just saved his best friend,
which is all the more poignant given how Reed had (unintentionally) hurt
Ben over the previous two years.
The water metaphor.
Life is like an ocean, and love is like air. But when NTs swim and frolic, AS people drown. Ben threw his friend a lifeline. The water metaphor in Fantastic Four 27 is absolutely inspired. And of course water is Freudian imagery for sex. At the start Reed jumps in with both feet and buys a ring. But he is out of his depth, and when things go wrong he panics. At the end he is out of his depth for a different reason, Ben sees him flailing, and throws him a lifeline, giving Reed a get-out. At this point Reed just needs time, a way out of the conversation. Reed was panicking inside and Ben saved him.
Sue and "I love you"
As for why Sue does not just say “I love you” I think that reflects the beautiful, powerful depth of the story. Yes, she could say “I love you” enough until he gets it. She could led him by the hand her whole life. But is that what she wants? To be married to an emotional two year old? Is that the marriage and future she wants? She desperately needs Reed to do something to show he is not emotionally crippled. She needs him to be able to recognize her love without her acting like mother and spoon feeding a toddler. She loves him, but that life would be too much. Sue spent her life since her early teenage years raising Johnny. She does not want another child. She wants to be a child herself! She never had a proper childhood: emotionally she cannot cope with being a child, then raising a child then marrying a child. She wants a man!!!
With Sue’s looks she could get any man she wants (note the recurring motif of Hollywood producers wanting her). No wonder Sue was tempted by emotionally strong Namor. (It is no accident that Namor has his own movie studio, seen in FF 9 and FF 195: it is sending the same message, instead of spoon feeding babies her whole life, Sue deserve to be pampered, to be a babe herself, to finally have a childhood and girly things: what choice will you make, Sue?). But in FF 27 when Namor stalks and kidnaps her, Sue has to face the reality: Namor could never be her husband. That leaves Reed, but he can be such a helpless child – is there no way out?
Reed's personal triumph
I love how, in this trapped under the sea story, Sue, Red and Ben are all trapped in their minds in different ways. (And Johnny as well, but that’s another topic.) I love the subtlety and depth, the oceans of drama below the surface. Thankfully we the readers are not tormented forever. In the following issues Reed shows he can be more than a child, emotionally. It is no accident that he proposes when at his old school, where he feels emotionally most confident.
Reed's triumph is not that he can snag a wonderful gal like Sue, but
that he can triumph over his limitations. Reed is a billionaire,
probably the smartest man in the world, a superhero and a national hero.
He could have girls queuing up to marry him for his money and fame.
but the real triumph is that he becomes the man that Sue would marry
even if he was not rich. He conquers himself. Fighting your own weakness
is a returning theme throughout the 26 year story. Usually it is shown
through doppelgangers, but sometimes it is more subtle, as here, or in
Doom's inner battle in issues 199-200.
Sue's attraction to Namor should be seen in the context of her
life devoted to (1) service and (2) following instincts. She is
smart enough to know that a life of luxury with a powerful man
must be balanced with living in the dark depths of the ocean, cut
off from everyone she loves. She also knows that Namor can be
violent and selfish. Sue is not stupid.
Namor is a lonely man, caught between two worlds. His mother was
human, much of his adult life was spent with amnesia, and he shows
some sympathy for humans, which alienates him from his people.
This appeals to Sue's instinctive need to do good. In addition, as
a calming and positive influence on the world's most powerful
leader, Sue could do untold good. She could do far more good at
his side, helping to guide his people with their advanced
technology, then she could ever do with the Fantastic Four (at
this point Franklin is not in the picture). If things go wrong she
also risks being trapped at the bottom of the dark ocean with a
violent man, never seeing a human or fresh air again. This is a
serious and heavy choice with planetary consequences.
Her final choice is based on nobility. Though Namor can have has great nobility, he can also be selfish. And while Reed suffers from a huge ego and the need to control others, his conscious motives are always pure.Other points to note
This issue is entitled "We Have To Fight The X-Men". The X-men represent alienated minorities:
"The conflict between mutants and
normal humans is often compared to real-world conflicts experienced by
minority groups in America such as African Americans, Jews, various
religious (or "non-religious") groups, Communists, the LGBT community,
etc.[...editor Ann Nocenti said] 'their powers arrive at puberty, making
them analogous to the changes you go through at adolescence - whether
they're special, or out of control, or setting you apart - the misfit
Also on an individual level, a number of X-Men serve a metaphorical
function as their powers illustrate points about the nature of the
The splash page shows
Ben holding up a statue of himself. Ben of course always represents
ordinary America: non nonsense, blue collar workers.
The story proper then starts with Reed (billionaire, son of a billionaire) supporting the military.
Recall that for the first year the Fantastic Four represented
alienation (see notes to issue 2). But since issue 12 (and especially
issue 14) the Fantastic Four represented mainstream America, and the
place of "alienated minority" was taken over by the X-Men. In this
image the elites use taxes to build
big expensive guns, but Cyclops' eyes are more powerful than guns. While
the air force looks down on people, Cyclops is an alienated kid, one of
the people. Also in this image, the kid on the FF (Johnny Storm) has
been co-opted to support the people who oppress him. The symbolism is
laid on thick, but I love it.
What makes a healthy family
Now that marriage is likely, we move to the topic of family. In later years (especially in Byrne's run ion the 1980s) it became common to say the Fantastic Four is "all about family". That was not always true, but it starts here.
In the last issue Sue chose Reed because of his ability to care for others. But she also knows he has the tragic flaw of needing to control everyone. That is not healthy for a family, and this issue illustrates the fact. One family (the Fantastic Four) battle another sort of family (the X-Men). The X-Men's fatal weakness at this time is that they rely on a single person to make all their decisions. This makes them vulnerable to misunderstanding and bad decisions: in this case professor X succumbs to the Puppet Master. A healthy family needs to be led by example, but not micro managed. Now that Sue has accepted Reed as not just her leader but her future husband, this will become the defining conflict of her life. He always thinks he knows best.
Other points to note
The anti-FF: the Red Ghost will be replaced by the Frightful Four
Issues 27-35 are the transition from a story about global politics to a story about a family and science (see the notes to FF 27). It's also the period in Americna history when they began to realise that the Russians, while still dangerous, they are no longer the greatest threat: the greatest threat is now America itself going bad. So the anti-FF must change as well.
Up until this point the anti-FF represented Russia: the Red Ghost and the Super Apes. From this point, beginning in issue 36 where Reed and Sue celebrate their engagement, the anti-FF is a group led by an angry American scientist. The Frightful Four is the more personal, American version of the Red Ghost and his Super Apes:
This is as good a place as any to comment on Jack Kirby's skill
as an artist, even though working at great speed. I cannot do
better than quote from "ff1by1.com":
(FF25) "For those interested in panel composition, learn here from the master. The Hulk as a focal pivot between the event of defeating The Torch, and The Thing issuing his challenge, all with a fluid, graceful flow that is easy to read and where all elements are identifiable, even though two of the characters' faces are hidden."
(FF29) "Advanced panel composition 101. Note the framing of this panel: the other-worldly spacecraft which the FF are entering as prisoners, and just inside of that, the ordinary urban street scene that they are leaving behind."
(FF29) "The Red Ghost disappearing into a spinning, scarlet void. Look especially at how the line weight compliments foreshortening. Those are some heavy blacks the inker is laying down, and it works the better for it."
(FF36) "The FF and Alicia about to be killed with anti-gravity. Creative and visually compelling."
Ben's name, "the Thing" reflects his 28 year search for his
identity: is he man or monster? Is he a rough hewn street fighter
or the idol of millions? In FF29 we saw how Ben's identity had
taken a battering since Reed Richards became top dog. Here we see
his downward slide continue as he attempts to be normal again.
This is like when somebody from one race tries to change their
skin color to belong to another. Te skin was never the problem,
the inner beliefs are the problem. Or it is like when somebody
joins a criminal gang just to be accepted: Ben is joining Diablo
in the same way that he joined the Yancy Street gang when he was a
poor kid. He lacked confidence and wanted to get respect from
somebody else. Diablo treats him with the respect he doesn't get
in the team, making it easier for Ben to partially change. But
this is tragic for three reasons.
Other points to note
In FF27 Sue chose a life with Reed and we got a glimpse of the
hard choices in her life. Now we see just how bad it can get.
The Fantastic Four is the American zeitgeist, and issue 31 is about the American woman. It can be seen as a metaphor for the struggles of being a woman before feminism: a roller coaster ride through every threat or fear a woman might face.
Why is Sue the victim here? Because in Act 1 through Act 3 she plays by Reed's rules. Sue lets Reed run the team his way (top down micromanaging), until (in Act 4) it becomes obvious that his way does not work. This reflects the mainstream image of women pre feminism (this is of course a huge generalization: there are always many exceptions). They accepted the male role as dominant in the home, until it was obvious that it failed, then in the 1970s mainstream culture embraced feminism. We will see this in Act 4.
I just discovered this on the excellent Kirby Museum blog: an unused Kirby page, apparently from this issue: Sue met her father and did not recognize him!!!! Let that sink in for a while. No wonder Sue feels so alone.
|Kirby's original story: a rant
This is an epic page of great historic importance to the Fantastic Four. And Lee cut it, thus destroying a beautiful story and weakening the Fantastic Four as a whole for years to come. Prepare for an epic rant!
This lost page is almost certainly from issue 31, between what are now pages 3 and 4. It's the landmark scene where Sue meets her father for the first time since she was a child. Or at least she WOULD have met him, if Lee had not cut it. In the final printed version Sue reads about him, then the scene abruptly cuts to a Mole Man story. There may have been another page missing after that as well, if my theory about the Avengers is correct. Later in the issue a 2 page Avengers crossover is forced in, which breaks the pacing pf the story and the story is far better without it. This sequence was probably cut, in part, to make space for that. But there is another reason why Lee would have cut it anyway, as we shall see.
You can see from the art, and it is confirmed by Kirby's marginal notes at the bottom, that she does not recognise her own father. This simple touch tells us so much about Sue's character, her loneliness, but also her strength in facing him down. The art suggests that he is a crook who is deceiving the older woman in some way. This makes his eventual redemption all the more powerful. But this storyline - strong women, weak man - would be unacceptable to Lee, and it's not hard to see why.
As I have documented elsewhere, sexism is the easiest way to tell the difference between Lee and Kirby's writing. It's so blatant it's painful. Just compare the art to the dialog over the years, or see what happened to Sue the moment that Kirby left. Kirby would always write strong women with initiative and depth, and Lee would always turn them into one dimensional damsels in distress. Here Sue went looking for her father and confronts him: she is strong and the men are weak (her father) or absent (the rest of the team). This would be unacceptable to Lee. Lee's role was to dumb down scripts, and whenever there are men and women it must always be the man who is the hero and the woman's role is to be rescued. No exceptions. So in the finally published version, rather than strong woman and weak man, it becomes strong man and weak woman: her father becomes innocent and stoic (wrongly imprisoned, yet in Lee's version, Sue never bothered to visit him or fight for his freedom), and Sue falls apart emotionally.
Sue is my favourite character in my favourite team. This single page would have been the key to her most important story ever, and Lee ripped it out because he cannot allow strong women. I can totally get why Kirby was so angry with the kid who could not come up with ideas, and whose only role was to scribble over others' work.
I've attached a copy of the page with the contrast cranked up. The marginal note says "SHE DOESN'T [SOMETHING] WHO HE IS". Or maybe she does recognise him, but it means "who he is" in a moral sense. Either way, we will never know.
If I could recover a single story that Lee wrecked, it would not be the infamous HIM story (the tipping point where Kirby stopped giving new ideas), it would not be the even more infamous issue that Lee ripped up to make FF 108, it would be this story. Even the remains as published are powerful if you understand the characters. It's all Sue's internal battle, and the story is highly symbolic (a return to their origin - the first return to the Mole Man; the return of somebody they thought was dead; the underground parallels the subconscious, and how much can we read into those giant mechanical tentacles?)
A tangent: Talking of parallels, Sue's body language and solo mission here is strongly suggestive of when she went after the Miracle Man in issue 3: the Invincible man in the next issue (pretending to be her father) can be seen as the spiritual successor of the Miracle Man: both can be defeated once you understand their secret. This also plays into my theory that issue 3 should continue from issue 2, much as 4 continues from 3: this would make the Miracle man the Fourth Skrull (same power set), just as the Miracle Man was a Skrull, and is also evidence that Kirby was creating a single continuous story as far back as 2-4 (5-6 are easy to see as a single story, and I also argue that 8 makes more sense as a continuation of 7). Kirby was creating continuous stories in the FF from the start: this was not an innovation in 1965. But removing the page about Sue's father weakens the long term nature of FF 31. It weakens Sue as a character in her own right, it weakens the links with FF 3, and therefore also weakens the links with FF 1 (in the absence of the other links, the Mole Man link starts to look like a mere coincidence). In short, removing this page not only weakens the characterisation of the FF in the long term, but makes this particular story much less significant and therefore less interesting.
Continuing the theme of Sue's character, her "damsel in distress" reputation is the biggest weakness that fans attribute to the early stories, and is the one thing that fans generally agree got better in later decades. But this weakness is purely down to Lee changing Kirby's plots. FF 31 is a classic example of a strong Sue story (confronting her father) being turned into a weak one. In the final version she starts by becoming an emotional wreck, and ends in hospital: a classic weak female trope if there ever was one.
The weakest part of the FF 31 plot, as finally published, is the completely unnecessary Avengers cameo I mentioned above. Taking the weak Sue, plot that superficially just rehashes FF 1, and the pointless Avengers crossover, most readers remember FF 31 as a low point in the history of the FF. As printed, it looks like Lee and Kirby just return to the Mole Man because they have lost the ability to think up new villains. But when the lost page is restored, the Mole Man makes sense, weak female becomes strong female, etc. FF 31 became a poster child for the poor quality stories before the team supposedly "found their feet" one year later. But Kirby's original story, as far as it can be reconstructed, was a classic.
This particular piece of vandalism contradicts the silly idea that Kirby provided the battles and Lee provided the soap opera. No, here was a superb piece of soap opera - daughter confronts errant father - and Lee cut it, to make space for the Avengers to do nothing but stand around. Ugh.
If Lee would have just left the stories alone as Kirby wrote them we would have had rich, beautiful stories all the way. The stories only improved a year later because Lee became too busy to interfere.
End of rant.
Now onto other topics from this issue:
Why doesn't Sue use her force
Sue's mind is constantly on her father escaping from prison: in the next issue we will learn why it is such a big deal. This also explains why she was hit by shrapnel: the only time this has happened. Sue is emotionally wrecked this whole issue. For why her childhood may be especially devastating to her, see the notes to FF291.
Reed undermines Sue
We have seen already how Reed unconsciously undermines Ben. In this story it appears that he has unconsciously undermined Sue. He states that her force field will be useless against the Mole Man, and so Sue does not use it until the end. Presumably Reed has told her this before, and Sue believes it.
Why does Reed think the force field would be useless?
The Mole Man has massively advanced technology, including force fields that can lift whole city blocks: Occam's razor suggests these are the same kind of force field that Sue uses. (Why have two kinds of force field when one will do?). Reed concludes that the Mole Man can easily subvert that power so there is no use in using it. This is just Reed's opinion, and is almost certainly wrong: Reed assumes that the Mole Man is a great scientist, in order to create his technology, but this is not true. The Mole Man almost certainly found pre-existing technology and barely understands it himself. The image of the "zeta waves" suggests they may in fact be a form of the cosmic rays that gave the team their powers, but he is seems unaware of this.
The Mole Man in context
For how the Mole Man's ten appearances reflect racism and the underground in America, see the notes to issue 1.
A history of brain wave scanners
The Mole Man's technology, and the whole story, reminds us of FF22, his previous contact with the FF (his first since issue 1). The Mole Man had been planning to trick the FF, and knew the best way to do it, so presumably he used the same surveillance technology. Also in FF22, Reed used a similar head set to detect Sue's power. It is possible that FF27 is another parallel: here, Namor scans for Sue, and Reed uses a similar head set, but this time it displays the person the user thinks of. All of these are ultimately brain wave scanners and visualizers. Occam's razor suggests a common origin to the technology, but we have insufficient clues to do more than guess.
But there is one intriguing possibility. The previous issue to
FF22 saw the Hate Monger: a man who created or discovered a mind
altering ray. At the end of the story Reed and SHIELD both had
access to the ray. SHIELD went on to develop a brain wave scanner
in time for FF annual 3, and Reed developed a brainwave scanner in
FF22. So the Hate Monger is the obvious source of the technology.
But if so then he did not understand its potential: he was
certainly no scientist.
Where did the Hate Monger get the scanner? We know almost nothing about him, but a clue is in his transport: he creates tunnels for traveling deep under the earth: he appears to use Mole Man technology. The Mole Man is then the common source, but he is no great scientist either. Where does he get the technology? Later parts of the Marvel Universe trace his technology to an underground race called the Deviants, who in turn gain their technology from the Kree who first appear in FF65. All super technology ultimately has alien origins.
A brief guide to FF family relationships
After exploring Ben's past, and seeing the struggles that Sue
faces, it's time to look at Sue's past. Why is she so keen to do
the right thing, yet also so keen on shallow, pretty things when
she gets any time alone? And why, over the next few years, will
she be so quick to obey Reed, almost as if she needs to please a
Here we discover why Sue so longs for superficial things: never had a real childhood. Her father accidentally killed their mother, and spent the rest of his life in jail. She then had to raise her own brother. This explains Sue's obsession with doing the right thing, her hatred of violence, and why she longs for a superficial life of clothes and the family life of a mother making dinner, the things she never had. it may also explain why her power over cosmic energy manifests itself in the need to hide (invisibility) and to protect (force fields). Life for Sue has always been hard, forced into places she does not want to be. It also explains the apparent contradiction that she loves society friends (see the start of FF1) but hates to be the center of attention (see the start of FF7). She values friendship, but always feels inadequate due to being forced into such great responsibilities when so young.
This issue has a reminder of Reed's leadership style. This will eventually be his downfall leading to numerous failures and great personal pain in act 4.
Following from Diablo's partial "success" in allowing Ben to change (FF30), this issue starts with Reed having another idea. Ben's physical condition is tied closely to his mental condition. As we will see again in the future, most notably in FF106-113, the simplest way to let him change at will is to remove his moral feelings, or in this case to dampen his memory so he does not remember his psychological pain.. Unfortunately that also means he forgets Alicia.
This story is the first to note that unconsciously Ben is afraid of being "cured" so fights against it. Reed does not realize the significance of this until Franklin points it out in FF245. Reed is emotionally blind to Ben, just as he will be emotionally blind to Franklin. Some have suggested that Reed is autistic: he can see complex physical relationships easily, but find emotional relationships much harder to process. For more about Ben's psychology: see the page on "how strong is The Thing."The zeitgeist
"I should have gone to Dr Doom" - Doom develops compassion over the years. By the end of the big story his process is complete. In the Franklinverse period Doom goes further and often helps the team - in FF350 he even cures the She-Thing, and in Claremont's run Valeria respects and loves him. but the Franklinverse involves so may parallel versions, including some very evil (see Waid's Doom) that we cannot be sure which Doom is which.
Franklin sacrifices himself for his children. Like Reed must ultimately do, sacrifice the thing he cares about most, his role as leader, in order to let his family grow. The death of one Franklin reflects the eventual death then coming of age (literally, by being able to grow up) of another Franklin. See "Fantastic Four; The End" for young Franklin's apparent death, and the next generation for how this fits into continuity. Also, the first Franklin appears as "the invincible man", foreshadowing his grandson, the other Franklin, the one who really will be invincible.
These issues, leading up to the engagement, are about proper family relationships:
We also begin to learn that every member of the team had dysfunctional parents
The message then is that we can rise above our circumstances:the American dream!
If Johnny is really Sue's child (see notes to FF 291) then he is the
only one to be fully raised by a loving parent: he is the one who will naturally lead the new team.
Here we learn that Reed didn't know much about Sue's background.
And yet in issue 11 we learn that they lived next door and Reed thought of her constantly.
What's going on here? We can work it out when when we consider some other details:
So "living next door" means like rich people live next door: there could have been half a mile between their houses.
So we have two people who seldom go out. But occasionally Sue would
catch glimpses of this handsome billionaire genius down the lane, and
Reed would catch glimpses of this stunningly beautiful girl. But when
did they actually meet? I think issues 1 to 35 give us the answer:
How Sue and Reed met
I see them as two lonely kids who had so much in common that they always spent time together. Then during the separation (World War II) they realized they loved each other. And when they came back they didn't need to say it. I see this as a natural result of their unusual childhoods: both were rich, both got far more attention than they ever wanted, both had parents who disappeared when they were young. I think they would just gradually grow together, and see each other as allies.
I doubt they went on formal dates. My guess is that Johnny was probably the unintentional match maker. Johnny was obsessed with cars, and the guy next door made rockets! I bet he dragged Sue over to meet Reed just so he could watch Reed in his engineering shop. I can imagine Sue sitting in the lab for an hour or two, and barely talking, but these two lonely souls (Sue and Reed) just felt right together. I bet most of their dates were just Reed in the lab or garage and Sue watching. Reed would focus on his work, but like having this very beautiful girl around, and Sue would feel safe around this handsome, confident, brilliant, gentle young man,
Then the time would come when Reed had to go to college (at a young age), and then to war. Only then would he realize that he missed Sue and really liked having her around. And when he came back he was thrown into his rocket work for the government, and barely had a moment to himself. I would not be surprised if they never had a formal date, but the love just grew because they were natural soul mates.
Sue's aunt's guest house
As for Sue's aunt's guest house, I don't think that was Reed. Reed was living on campus, not in a guest house. but Namor at that time was in New York, living in a guest house, and he routinely wore disguises at this point. Byrne describes a "shy, bookish college freshman" and obviously intends it to be Reed. No doubt that is what Sue wanted him to think when she described that fateful meeting. But the picture and behavior looks nothing like the square jawed confident Reed of the 1940s: it does however look exactly like a disguised Submariner. For more detail see the notes to FF 291.
The larger story structure
The loss of Sue's father naturally leads back to Namor: all these issues follow, they are not random! Sue was reminded of her childhood and felt vulnerable again. For why this draws our attention to Namor, see the notes to FF 291.
The meaning of this issue
This issue continues the examination of Sue Storm by focusing on soft power (her willingness to make allies) versus hard power. (Reed's preference for conflict). Reed's harsher approach is not because he is a violent man, but because he;s a very male man: very good at solving specific narrowly defined problems, but not so good at relationships.
In FF27 Sue decided in her own mind that Reed was the man for
her. But Reed is very bad on picking up emotional clues - see the
last frame of this issue, where he still thinks she might love
Namor. For Reed's possible autism, see the comments to the
previous issue, where Reed cannot see why Ben is unable to change.
Speaking of Ben, it takes Reed until FF297 before it occurs to him
that maybe he might have had a negative influence on his old
friend. Sue, in contrast is emotionally more mature. Now that she
has rejected Namor she is very keen to help him as a friend and
ally. Reed is more hesitant at first, even though turning the
world's most powerful empire from enemies into friends would be
extremely valuable. Reed's hesitance will later (FF 103) leave
room for Magneto to persuade Namor that humans cannot be trusted.
Other points to note
This illustrates the problem with judging the FF by other comics.
If you think in terms of comics then your point of reference for
"extremely rich person" may be Scrooge McDuck. So you may assume
that Gideon wanted new bills for vanity reasons. But if you judge
the story by a higher standard, the real world, there is a more
likely explanation. In the scene where Gideon sends back the money
he is shown providing financial services to banks. In the real
world wealthy people do not use piles of dollar bills but banks
do. They have apparently ordered dollar bills through Gideon, they
specified new bills, and the supplier mistakenly supplied used
notes instead. The purpose of the image, with its realistic and
detailed location, is not to show Gideon's vanity, but his power.
Banks go to him for help, and he deals with billions of dollars
The same blog complains that "the whole premise that wealthy men
would turn over their fortune to him provided he defeat the
Fantastic Four is absurd." But again we have to judge the story by
the standards of the real world, not the standards of other
comics. In the story, Gideon's competitors expect to be bankrupt
in three years. They have nothing to lose. They are desperate.
Meanwhile, Gideon is showing signs of insanity. His employees say
he sounds insane, and his competitors say he sounds mad, and his
behavior supports this view: what he suggests is irrational. The
pressure of wealth is affecting his mind, just as it affected
Howard Hughes. (Hughes ended his life as a paranoid recluse, and
when he died they found broken needles under the skin of his
sickly body). Why did the other businessmen agree to the deal?
Because it gave them a way out. It is clearly an absurd gamble,
and whatever happens it gives them breathing space. Gideon has
promised to give up his plans if he fails, and that's a legally
binding promise that could be enforced in court. Simply making the
offer can be held as proof of insanity, and allow them to question
his other contracts. Even if it is take seriously, something as
nebulous as "defeat the Fantastic Four" will keep the lawyers
arguing for years. By making that insane offer Gideon has already
lost and his enemies know it.
All of this illustrates a common problem with reviews of the
Fantastic Four. Most comics do not stand up to scrutiny, and
reviewers treat the FF in the same superficial way. But the FF is
different. It has real depth, and if you dig a little deeper you
will not be disappointed.
This is just a beautiful issue, from the first frame (Reed's old
ivy covered university) to the last (they get engaged). Regarding
the longer story, the engagement is a perfect moment to emphasize
the difference between Reed and Sue: When faced with Dragon Man,
Reed's immediate response is to treat it like a threat, but Sue
realizes he can be a friend. This difference will eventually lead
to the breakdown of the marriage.
Dragon man: symbol of the long term
Dragon Man appears when Reed finally proposes. Namor’s love is
represented by monsters of the sea, so rocket scientist Reed’s love is
represented by a monster of the air: a terrifying dragon who has the
mind of a child and loves Sue. Dragon man’s appearance in FF 35
foreshadows the three future possibilities in marriage:
Dragon man always accompanies marriage crisis: he appears when Reed
and Sue get engaged, he has his greatest moments in the honeymoon, he
takes Sue and the baby when they separate, and finally he appears when
Johnny marries Alicia.
"Dragons can be thought to symbolize the ability to see the “big picture” as well as the ability to see far off danger or future circumstances." (source)
Other points to note:
The Fantastic Four were celebrities as early as FF2, but the
engagement is when they really hit the magazines. Apart from
moving forward the family saga in real time, this issue presents
another warning: after the warning against being a bad parent
(FF34) and a warning against seeing every other person as a threat
(FF35, dragon man) we now have a warning of a super team gone
wrong. The Frightful Four are a dark mirror of the Fantastic Four.
The Wizard's, like Mr Fantastic, has a huge ego (note the huge
sized helmet emphasizing his brain). His ego prevents his team
from ever being effective, and in particular the female member
All three moral warnings (bad parenting, insecurity, ego) are failings that plague Mr Fantastic and doom his otherwise exemplary life. Regarding the Great American Novel as allegory, they are also issues that a free nation must address if it wants to avoid angry youth, unnecessary wars and a slide toward despotism.
Medusa appeared in 1965. Since then the idea of prehensile hair has become common in fiction (see TVTropes for examples). But apart from an obscure short story by H. P. Lovecraft, nobody in over two thousand years had ever thought to use the legend of Medusa for more than just snakes. So why did Medusa suddenly appear in 1965? The official answer is of course that Stan Lee (or Jack Kirby) suddenly came up with the idea from nowhere. So the fact that a fan had just suggested it in a DC letters page, and a similar character (Sussa Pakka) made a brief appearance in DC comics in 1964, was complete coincidence. After all, fans who wrote to DC never wrote to Marvel, right? And Nobody in the Marvel offices ever read any DC comics, right?
Except... we know that the Fantastic Four was inspired by the Justice League of America, because Stan told us. Over on the FF message board, "DaveyM" made some other observations:
"You do have to wonder how influential Adventure Comics might have been to Stan - Polar Boy made his appearance a few months before Iceman did, could Magneto spring from Cosmic Boy? Is Jean Grey based on Saturn Girl at all?, I have always wondered if Elastic Lad might have fed into the conception of Reed Richards, but is it possible that the original Invisible Kid also inspired the introduction of Invisible Girl...? Or Sun Boy fed into Johnny Storm perhaps? It may all be coincidental after all, and yet it is generally agreed that the original X-Men owe a debt to The Doom Patrol (created a few months earlier), that the Fantastic Four are a tip of the hat to the challengers of the Unknown, Doctor Strange is without a doubt a thinly disguised Doctor Fate, Daredevil is very similar to Doctor Mid-nite... You can go on and on."
But put it into the context of Stan having to set up a new line of comics featuring a wide array of new characters and of course he is going to look around him for starting points. The demands to *create create create* were too high for him not to look for ideas and inspiration. And it works the other way of course. Sussa Pakka in the original appearance didn't look much like the early Medusa, but soon they both had very similar uniforms and similar red hair. And of course DC eventually did everything it could to look like Marvel, because Marvel was overtaking them in sales. There is a saying in the arts: "Talent borrows. genius steals." And there is another saying in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes: "There is nothing new under the sun."
Paste Pot Pete
This is the highest point to which Peter Petruski will ever rise: this is the start of his decline. See his own page for more about the character.
Other points to note
"Strange Tales" and criticism of the Frightful Four
The Wizard, Trapster and Sandman previously fought the Human Torch in the book Strange Tales. Many readers treat that series with disdain. For example, the Wonder Years book condemns the entire series:
"total dross. ... Marvel continuity was totally abandoned because the Strange Tales Human Torch had a secret identity which was known to the world in Fantastic Four. Besides this, in Fantastic Four Johnny and Sue lived with Reed and Ben in New York. But in Strange Tales, they lived by themselves in 'Glenville.' It was moronic."
The author of Wonder Years seems unaware of the backup features
in FF annual 5, where it is explained that Sue and Johnny commute
from the suburbs.
No doubt this was why Johnny adapted the fantasti-car into four independent sections in FF12. it could cover even a hundred mile commute in just a few minutes.
A close look at Strange Tales reveals a charming and fascinating
collection that, while it would win no awards for writing,
reflects the innocence and enthusiasm of youth. It was the place
where new and inexperienced characters learned their trade.
Regarding the claim that Johnny has a secret identity this was
explained in the book itself: Johnny wanted to live a normal life
and his friends respected that. Naively, young Johnny thought they
did not know who he was, but in fact they were just respecting his
privacy by never mentioning the FF. For an analysis of the
Trapster (a typical Strange Tales villain) and whether he is
really "moronic," see Paste Pot
The title "frightful four"
As we saw in his Strange Tales debut, the Wizard delights in feeling superior, and the outward signs of intellect, so he would enjoy the subtle meanings of "frightful":
1. terrifying: people fear what they do not understand.
2. shocking: in his original career as a magician he enjoyed shocking people by appearing to defy the laws of nature.
3. Extreme: "frightfully good, old chap."
4. Not good enough: he considers his team mates to be pathetic.
5. originally it meant easily frightened - a way to insult his comrades without them realizing. When they later meet Agatha Harkness they are all scared witless.
The real Wizard: John Carradine
The Wizard had a very long face in his first appearance in Strange
Tales. At first he looks different in this issue. But when we look at
the actor who was probably the model, both images are correct. Kurt F. Mitchell wrote:
The Wizard, like the Ringmaster and a number of other long-faced Kirby villains, is almost certainly modeled after John Carradine.
"My mother told me there was a period in the late 40s when she would be walking to Grand Central after work and always pass John Carradine on his way to a show he was in. He wore a big black cape and waved it around to make sure people would notice him."
Thoughts of the approaching wedding lead Sue to miss her dead
father. There is nobody to give her away at the altar. Reed has become the new center of her life, and she needs
emotional closure with her old life before the wedding. This is
also an opportunity for Sue to test whether Reed will understand
her feelings. If he won't understand or help now then there is
still time to call off the engagement. Thankfully, after she
persuades him, he is completely on her side.
This may not be about revenge. Sue feels empathy for all people, and cannot bear the thought that the Skrulls might kill somebody else.
The title "Behold! A Distant Star" probably refers to the phrase "Behold a pale horse" from the Book of Revelation: it refers to death and the desire for revenge. Sue is, in effect, saying "How long must my father go unavenged?"
"And I looked, and behold a pale horse:
and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:8-10)
Note that Franklin Storm died because of his testimony: he refused to defend himself in court, and that set in progress the events that eventually led to his death as a hero and innocent man. Why choose a relatively obscure reference and then change it? Because the year before (1964) it was not obscure, but was used as the title of a movie covering similar themes, of death and revenge.
With closure on her past, and her future assured, Sue can finally relax and have fun. In this issue we see the full range of her magnificence. She can be playful but is also capable and self assured: whens kidnapped as a hostage, she can free herself. Then when the boys fail she acts to protect her family like nobody else can:
Violence against women
The culture was different in the sixties. A man could not get away with spanking a woman as a punishment, even in jest.
Sexism? It's really about power.
Reed is often condemned for sexist remarks, saying things like "just like a woman." But it does not imply he thinks women are inferior: he also says that women have intuition that men lack. Sue also says "you just can't resist acting like silly little boys, can you?" The problem with Reed is not sexism, but his need to control: he treats Ben as weak just as much as he does Sue.
Critics say the Frightful Four had no motivation, and ask why they picked on Sue. See the comments by FF17, about Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. People's number one need is to feel important. For super villains the goal is to embarrass, not destroy. The powers are far too dangerous to use directly, and would only ensure mutually assured destruction. This also explains why jail terms are relatively short: there is an unwritten rule that both sides will play along as long as nobody plays the nuclear option. We see the same thing with America and North Korea. Why does one side strut around scoring publicity points, why don't they just nuke their enemies? Because they are not stupid.
A cultural landmark issue
This is a landmark issue, and one that sets it apart from other comics: the team lose. "One wonders how Stan got this story past the Comics Code Authority. Since day one the agency’s staunchest rule was that good triumphs over evil every time. No exceptions. Obviously, Lee and Kirby’s daring was beginning to loosen things up." - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years"
In this, his second appearance, Peter Petruski changes his name: his feelings of inadequacy are clear, and will dominate the rest of his story. See his own page for details.
Two approaches to solving problems: Empathy versus technology
This is the start of the last story arc before the wedding. It provides a warning to Sue: one of Reed's flaws is his male need to do something when the best thing to do is often nothing. In doing so, Reed puts his family at risk, and also never has time for his family, resulting in further bad decisions (like not understanding their potential and treating them like idiots). Sue might do well to heed the warning: the same problem comes back at the end of Act 3, and helps her to decide to leave him. Time and again at the end of act 3 Reed will jump into a problem and use force, endangering his family, when a peaceful solution or even doing nothing at all would have been better. (See the creature from the lost lagoon, or when the Maggia buy the building.) The danger to the family is made obvious here because they have no powers.
What could Reed have done differently? He could have kept quiet and let his enemies think they were out of town. The solution was to wait for the Skrull power ray to recharge. If that didn't work then it is possible their powers would have come back on their own, and if not then it would give Reed an idea for getting the powers back some other way (just as he would get his own powers back when he lost them prior to FF197). One thing was sure: the temporary fake powers were not good enough. This was a bad decision.
The four great technologies
Note that empathy is a form of technology: it is a tool for managing complex systems 9the most complex systems of all: society and politics). It steps back and sees the bigger picture: not just the technology itself, but the people who control it. Empathy is the fourth and greatest great technologies in the Fantastic Four:
We are twelve issues (one year) away from Reed perfecting the subspace portal, so this issue focuses on Reed's technological research. Technology in the Fantastic Four always builds on previous technology: it does not just appear when needed like in a bad comic book.
Massive computing power is the keys to progressing from unstable
molecules to the sub space portal. The previous issue began with Reed
studying photographs of Skrull technology, and of course he already has a
captured Skrull ship, so he just needs to figure out how the skrulls
use their machines. His experiments with controlling air show he is
beginning to master their computers. Doom, the mirror of Reed, also
studies any technology he finds. In this case he doesn't study Skrull
tech, he studies Reed's tech. By FF 199 we see that Doom has his own
version of the vortex machine installed in Latveria to control his
Other points to note
Doom's character development
For an overview of Doom's development in his twenty appearances see his own page.
Here Reed once again turns Ben into The Thing: but this time he does it
deliberately. This is one of the defining tragedies in Ben's life, and
his subsequent crushing of Doom's hands is a major event in the life of
the Latverian monarch. It's a powerful, powerful moment.The unthinking
cruelty in Reed's action, the proud man crushed one time too often.
"Throughout his lifetime, Kirby created several characters whose souls
would switch bodies, or whose bodies would simply transform. This
transformation was usually accompanied by a wonderful visual display of
cosmic forces at work. [Ben's change back to rocky form in this issue]
is arguably one of Kirby’s most powerful and moving examples of this
metamorphosis. What is most striking here is the situation in which Reed
Richards feels compelled to transform Ben Grimm seemingly against his
will. One can see the resentment and weary resignation in the Thing’s
expression as he rises from the floor. [...] As he begins to rise in
panel two, he no longer appears to be a sentient being, but a sort of
mindless primordial reptilian entity from the dawn of time. His right
hand is moving forward mechanically and gesturing just above the level
of the Thing’s head in panel three, focusing the reader’s eye on that
grim visage." (source)
Reed finds it convenient to give Ben back his strength even
though Ben does not want it. Reed's excuse is that they need every
superhero. This is no longer true: with the existence of the X-Men
(FF28) they are no longer the only super team. Also, the Thing
Robot could simply be improved, as it will be for FF170. But Reed
cannot see past the immediate problem, and this leads him to acts
that from the outside appear at best misguided and at worst cruel.
Note the irony: Reed says that Ben is irreplaceable, and by doing
so he lets Ben defeat Doom single handed. Thus proving that Reed
himself is replaceable, as it seemed that Doom's intelligence
meant only Reed was a threat. Finally in act 5 Ben will indeed
replace Reed as leader of the team. Another irony is that Reed
thinks defeating Doom will help Ben's self esteem. But Ben's self
esteem problem comes from feeling powerless before Reed, and once
again he has to obey Reed against his will and suffer great pain
in the process.
Bottom line: Reed is a great scientist and has the best possible motives, but he is not a good leader.
As the excellent "Wait What" podcast points out, this should be Reed's triumph. He beat Doom on Doom's turf in annual 2, so Doom comes back to Reed's turf to use Reed's own technology against him. But instead it betrays Reed's weakness: his need to be number one means instead he undermines his team. He betrays Ben Grimm. Then even while Ben is having his greatest triumph, Reed is calling from the next room telling him not to: Ben's greatest strength (his courage, and he does not give up) is paralleled by Reed's greatest weakness (his need to be number one).
This is the point where Ben's self misery turns to bottled up self anger. But in doing so he regains his teeth. This time when he changes he has teeth for the first time since Reed destroyed his confidence. The last time we saw his teeth was FF12, just before Reed completed his triumph in FF13. Since then Ben has been toothless, both literally and metaphorically. But now he is literally murderous. Ben's recovery is still a long way off, but here the seeds are sown. Ben is no longer the baby we saw rocking on his heels in issue 15.
Note the parallel in FF42 where he literally bottles up Reed: the
bottling up representing Ben's incredible internal pressure, his mental
hell. Ben did that one other time: in FF13, the story of Reed's greatest
triumph, where Reed tried to make the others stay home so he could do
it all on his own.
Other points to note
The second half of the page
This issue is the poster child for feminism. It is often used as proof that Sue was indeed weak: some say she fainted after just a tap from Ben. But critics neglect to mention that a tiny nuclear bomb just hammered her brain and she kept fighting. For more about this incident and Sue's amazing power, see Sue's own page. For more about feminism in the FF, see the notes to the final issue, 321.
This is the last adventure before Reed and Sue marry. It's
charged with sexuality. The Comics Code (and the desire to create
a story for all people) prevents anything explicit, but it's all
there as metaphor.
"Madam Medusa is the agent provocateur of the evil FF—the matrix for most of the group’s discord. She inaugurates sexual tension into the storyline; a disruptive element of jealousy that incites conflict between the Trapster, the Sandman and the Thing, all of whom are vying for her attention. She’s also responsible for some erotic undertones in the tale. As the unconscious Mr. Fantastic lies prone, helplessly glued to a table, Kirby depicts the titian-hared tigress eying him with delight as she declares 'he’s almost too handsome to harm!' Reed’s state of bondage seems decidedly appealing to the Frightful Four’s evil dominatrix." - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years"
Reed resists the temptation and saves himself for Sue. The
sequence that follows this is probably just a coincidence, but the
thesis of this web site is that when something feels right to an
experienced writer and artist then it probably reflects something
much deeper even if they aren't aware of it:
Readers may draw their own conclusions. And note Ben's anger. He
wanted to be with Alicia, but Reed forced Ben back to be the Thing. Ben
then walks out and does not even contact Sue: eh cannot cope. He then
bottles up Reed, reflecting how his own desires are bottled up. The
sexual tension is only exceeded by the tragedy and pathos.
The title and the Zeitgeist
The ironic title, "To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?" reflects the mood of the time: growing discontent due to unpopular wars and unpopular laws: to do good, why must we do bad? It was summed up two years later in the famous quote from the Vietnam war, regarding the people of the town of Bến Tre: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."
Other points to note
For more about Reed changing size, see his own page.
This issue marks several major endings:
Reed wins again. Ben knows when he is beat. The hatred of Reed is
Deep down Ben will still blame Reed until FF296 (the 25th
anniversary issue and start of Act 5), but the hatred and rivalry
has gone for good. Act 2 is over.
"Jack and Stan’s Fantastic Four always focused on the Thing more than anyone. ... 'Lo, There Shall Be An Ending' saw an ending to much of Ben’s bitterness, resentment and pathos. ... Despite the occasional relapse into self-pity (see FF #51 and 55), from here on he’ll play the FF’s grumpy but endearing wise guy; a best friend to Reed, a protector to Sue and a big brother to the Torch." - Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years"
This milestone issue, the end of Act 2, also focuses on Johnny and looks both backward and forward: backward to the days when he was able to defeat the Wizard on his own (in Strange Tales), and forward to the time when will again be his own master. It also looks forward to his future with Crystal. He doesn't yet know she exists, but just looking at her sister makes his heart beat faster and he doesn't know why. Crystal is The One.