Friday, January 21, 2011
Fantastic Four Fridays: Little Black Bolt, Come Blow Your Horn
Fantastic Four #158 (May 1975)
"Invasion From the 5th (Count It, 5th!) Dimension"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott
Doug: This is one of the earliest FF's I can recall owning, so it's always been a favorite of mine. The white cover is of course striking, but what really resonated with me was the superhero tussle near the beginning of the story. Let's check it out...
Doug: After the big three-parter with Dr. Doom and the Silver Surfer, we join our friends in several vignettes of repose. Ben and Alicia have taken in "Madame Butterfly" at the Met, Johnny's on the prowl in singles bars around Manhattan, Reed and Sue are on a walk and discussing what her role will or will not be on the team, and Medusa's on her way out of the library. Of course, Roy throws some great characterization into all of these short scenes. Ben's moaning and groaning about the opera, and then at the height of his glory when some kids ask for autographs; of course, he quickly loses his patience. The love shared between he and Alicia is on display through the dialogue, and is charming. Johnny can't stay out of a fight after hitting on a girl previously spoken for -- too bad his new suit wasn't made out of unstable molecules, as it goes up in smoke! And for Reed and Sue, it's a supportive Reed in this episode who tells Sue that if she wants to be active on the team that's fine, but that he will support her if she wants to pursue a career as a private investigator. This is just great stuff -- a "modern" extension of all of the groundwork Stan and Jack had laid in the previous decade.
Karen: I was sort of flabbergasted about this whole thing with Sue wanting to be a private detective! I don't recall that at all, but it's been many years since I last read these issues. I thought the panel with Medusa was really funny -she's coming out of the library, and Roy's caption reads "She's not really doing anything all that interesting"! I wonder if Buckler drew that panel and Roy just didn't know what to do with it!
Doug: Yeah, it was a little odd that Medusa would be at the library at the same time Johnny was in the bars. Maybe that sums up the fact that Roy had grown bored with her -- she would be on the way out shortly, anyway. And Reed and Sue walking in the park? Seemed like the perfect set-up for another mugging as we'd seen in issue #155.
Doug: We then see, of all people, Quicksilver. He's speeding through Manhattan, when he stops to have a conversation with a communication device affixed to his palm. Naturally, the person on the other end of the link is shrouded so that we have no inkling of to whom he's speaking. His orders are to put Plan M into action, and to begin the "assault phase". You know -- time was when Quicksilver was a hero. But wasn't that short-lived? By this time, he'd been a jerk for the better part of 7-8 years!
Doug: Anyway, Johnny's back at the Baxter Building, all miffed at his strike-out. So, gonna do some web-slinging! Uh, no... What would you call what he's gonna do? Flamin'? Whatever it is, Johnny showers off the clothing residue from his ill-timed temper tantrum, and as he's emerging from the shower and slipping into his red suit, who should enter the room but Pietro. And in his usually gruff manner, he issues a challenge to the Torch. Characterization, and what separates Marvel from DC? -- Johnny launches into a soliloquy about how he'd been patient with Quicksilver's budding romance with Crystal, and how he'd even played nice at the wedding (8 issues prior to this one). Quicksilver attempts to reason with the Torch, but in the process the communicator is melted. Now it's game on!
Karen: Yeah, Quicksilver's "attempt to reason" is barking commands at Johnny! That's pretty much consistent with his personality. This was a welcome follow up to the wedding. I thought it was unrealistic at the time that Johnny was fine with Crystal marrying Quicksilver.
Doug: Quarters are tight, but Johnny proves no match for Quicksilver in the close combat. As Johnny hurtles across the floor, the elevator door opens and he's caught by Ben and the rest of the team. Ben easily corrals Pietro, and Reed talks him out of clobbering the mutant. Cooler heads prevail, and Quicksilver begins to narrate his mission. Very shortly after the wedding, the Great Refuge was invaded inter-dimensionally. An attack force entered the royal chambers, quickly subduing the royal family. The invaders had done their homework -- each cousin's powers were neutralized; only Triton managed to escape.
Karen: I was surprised that Black Bolt was taken so easily; in fact, they don't even show it! Worse, later on we see Black Bolt with what is described as a metal clasp over his mouth, but it looks just like a cloth gag! I had no idea who this Xemu guy was when I first read this book. He wasn't too impressive.
Doug: Xemu then revealed his motive -- to get Black Bolt to speak into the Thunder Horn, a weapon so powerful that even a whisper from the voice of a normal person could prove catastrophically destructive. With Black Bolt's sonic voice... Xemu could rule not only his dimension, but our own as well. Oh, and the aforementioned Operation M? That M stood for "Medusa", who was to be the blackmail with which to control Black Bolt. A challenge? As this introductory chapter ends, the FF and Quicksilver take that challenge as a pogo plane lifts off for the Hidden Land!
Karen: It's typical Roy Thomas, to take an obscure villain from the pages of the Torch's solo adventures in Strange Tales a decade before and build a story around him. It's not a bad thing, just a hallmark of Roy's. However, I was a little dismayed at how Reed tells Sue to stay behind and take care of Franklin at the end. Ironic when Sue had earlier made a comment about not feeling oppressed by the others any more.