Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Finding Silver in Bronze: Marvel's Greatest Comics 33

Marvel's Greatest Comics #33 (December 1971)
Reprinting Fantastic Four #44-45
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott
"The Gentleman's Name is Gorgon!" and "Among Us Hide... the Inhumans!"

Doug: Hi, Lee/Kirby fans! It's been many weeks since we took a look at Marvel's wonderful reprint titles that allowed the Bronze Age babies amongst our readers to catch up on the early years of the Marvel Universe. Today we have a double-feature for you, but Marvel's Greatest Comics actually contained three thrilling adventures! We'll be looking at the first two entries -- the third was a reprint of Strange Tales #130, when the Torch and the Thing met the Beatles!

Karen: It was right around this issue that I started reading MGC. A good point to jump on!

Doug: Our opening tale takes place shortly after the wedding of Reed and Sue, which had taken place in Fantastic Four Annual #3. As we join our cast, Reed is perfecting a fully-automated dishwasher -- what a guy!
Of course, these were the days when every woman in the MU was not only needy, but dumb! And Stan never let us forget it. After the usual in-house strife, Johnny gets ticked off and heads downstairs for his Stingray. He's surprised that he left it on the street unlocked. As he drives off, he's knocked off-course by a shockwave, followed abruptly by a woman's voice and a gun to his head! Now wait a second... Even though Medusa compliments Johnny for installing a jump seat, have you ever seen a 1965 Stingray? Her hair, let alone her body, wouldn't have fit in any back seat.

Karen: Is it just me, or did Johnny seem a whole heck of a lot more interesting back in these 60s issues? Maybe it's because I hadn't tired of his immaturity at this point. Do they even show Johnny's interest in cars any more?

Doug: Back at the Baxter Building, the unknown shockwaver has knocked everyone off his/her feet, and is scaling the outside of the building! Ben goes out to catch him, but our foe has taken a copter from the good guys.
Turns out he smashed the Fantasticar and the Pogo Plane, too! Back to Johnny and Medusa, they're now hiding out near State U., where Reed and Ben -- and a certain Victor von Doom -- had attended college (you don't think a big brain like Reed would have gone Ivy League, or maybe to MIT?). Johnny decides to make a break for it; however, a flame-on later and the heat wakes up the dormant Dragon Man! Now we got some trouble!

Karen: I just love Dragon Man. He's a perfect example of the goofy yet cool Kirby style!

Doug: The rest of this one is one big, ongoing slugfest. Our mystery stomper is revealed to be Gorgon, and is of the same "race" as Medusa. He asks the FF if they've never considered how Medusa got such crazy hair.
Well even if I'd wondered, I wouldn't have associated that with a dude sportin' shockwave hooves! Dragon Man's sort of the wild card in all of this -- he thinks Medusa reminds him of Sue, then Sue shows up, then Ben's move to protect them is misinterpreted so DM wallops Benjie, then Gorgon whoops DM... It's Kirby at his frenetic finest! The opening act ends with DM grabbing the girls ('cause that's how Stan writes them) and flying away, while Gorgon crushes the building on which the boys were standing.

Karen: This issue really had everything! But of course, that was the hallmark of this period of time in FF history -Stan and Jack were just over-flowing with creativity, and did the greatest universe building in the history of comics right here in these issues, and the ones to follow.

Doug: As we get rolling in part two (FF #45), Reed forms a sling and envelopes Ben, while Johnny carries them to safety. The Torch sets off after Dragon Man, overtakes him, and then in an act of physics I don't quite understand creates nova-intensity white light without changing the amount of heat he generates.
Whatever. This blinds Dragon Man and gets him to drop Sue. Then we get a series of interludes:

Doug: First we see the Sandman and the Trapster trying to bust out of jail, then we see Johnny return to the Baxter Building with Dragon Man and Sue. DM's a mellow fellow now, until a few pages later when Ben sets him off again.
Then we see Johnny trying to get ahold of Dorrie Evans, to no avail. So he does what any 18-year old kid would do -- he goes for a walk (?).

Karen: Trapster and Sandman now added to the mix! Who's next, Sub-Mariner? The Watcher? It must have been great to be a fan reading these books as they came out. Every issue was loaded with surprises! The fracas between Ben and Dragon Man was a hoot. I laughed when Reed turned himself into a cube to get between the two of them! Weird stuff, but wonderful. The exchanges with Dragon Man also gave us a chance to see Ben again mourning his 'monsterness'.
Doug: Johnny ends up in a rundown section of town, where he spies a beautiful girl sitting all alone in a tenement. Try that one today in New York. He approaches her and a whirlwind kicks up, knocking him to the ground. He goes back home and helps Reed and Sue with some stuff, but daydreams his way through it. He gets mad at Ben, so he decides to try to find the girl again. Lo and behold, he finds her in the same place. Johnny startles her, she runs, and gives him another dose of earth, wind, and fire. Johnny flames on, and the girl gets excited about it rather than frightened.
She introduces herself as Crystal, and says that Johnny must be "one of us".

Doug: Johnny plays along, and Crystal takes him home to meet the family. Whoa... Once inside the Inhumans' headquarters (or maybe just "quarters"), Johnny is introduced to Karnak, Gorgon, and Medusa! He also meets Triton. This first look at the Inhumans is quite a slow reveal, and initially they really differed in tone, and to some extent (Triton) looks as well. But the basic framework is there. Of course, Johnny gets into another fracas, he is able to burst free and alert his teammates, and as they respond to the flaming 4,
Karnak chops off a piece of wall to hurl at them. Ben's able to save the team from the projectile, and as he challenges the Inhumans, another wall explodes to reveal... Black Bolt!

Karen: The Inhumans come off pretty darn arrogant! I also liked the mystery surrounding Triton, who later became my favorite Inhuman. The "Munsters" reference seemed wholly appropriate.

Doug: This was a fun little romp, and it really serves to show how much of what we know and love about the Marvel Universe was created in the pages of the Fantastic Four. Jack Kirby was at the zenith of his powers in this title, and Stan for the most part added to the fun. But, having read much about each creator, and about them together as a team, I can't help but wonder in some instances if Stan was walking all over Jack's margin notes. There's just enough dialogue here and there that leaves the reader doing a little head-scratching to make me wonder if what hit the newsstands was what the King intended. But at any rate, it's some good four-color fun, and I am glad that Marvel had the foresight, or hindsight if you will, to keep these stories fresh for the new (at the time) generation of readers.


Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, Karen, that particular issue of Marvel's Greatest Comics was my first ish too, although my copy has become rather battered in the nearly 40 years since I parted with a quarter for it. But since then I also got the Marvel Masterpiece collection which includes also included the Galactus Trilogy & Wedding Annual! Back to the MGC issue, those stories were just so jam-packed with stuff going on it's incredible. By the point the originals came out, I suppose Johnny had already lost his solo spot in Strange Tales, so Kirby hooked him up with that gorgeous Inhuman and Dorrie was left to disappear until her hilarious cameo during the Conway era after Crystal had ditched him. As for Johnny's perpetual immaturity, well, back in '65 or so it was still realistic -- I don't know if they ever showed his graduation from high school, but if he was about the same age as Peter Parker he had to have graduated by this point and so was about 18 years old and the FF were only in their 5th year of publication. Still, in the 45 years since then, has anyone tried to portray Johnny as becoming some sort of professional in his own right? Conway revealed that he dropped out of college, but did he go back or earn any sort of degree in mechanical engineering? You'd think Reed & Sue would have been on him to complete his higher education, to become more of an asset to the group. Ah, well, it's only funny books!
Oh, oddly enough, that ish was also my introduction to the Beatles -- somehow at age 9 in 1971I was unfamiliar with them. Perhaps it was because my parents mostly listened to country or easy-listening music, and we lived in Japan from '67 to '70. Anyhow, by the late '70s I'd become a late to the party Beatlemaniac. Better late than never.

Karen said...

Hi Fred,

I haven't been a regular reader of the FF for probably a couple of decades, so I've only had glimpses of Johnny since the 80s. But it doesn't seem like he's changed much. I know at some point he was married to a skrull posing as Alicia (although i think Byrne intended this to be the real Alicia, but I can't recall now).That didn't strike me as a great idea. But it was different I guess. It seems like he's never really been anything other than the youngest member of the FF, even if he is now way past high school.

It would be interesting to see him in some other situation -maybe even joining the Avengers (why not? everyone else has) just to shake him up a bit.


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