Friday, January 28, 2011
Fantastic Four Fridays: Now You See the Hidden Land, Now You Don't!
Fantastic Four #159 (June 1975)
"Havoc in the Hidden Land!"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott
Doug: OK, how many of you had this cover on some of your Mead school products? Folders, notebook paper? I did not, but boy, I sure looked longingly at that stuff at the store! Well anyway, today brings us to the conclusion of our 5-week tour of the Buckler/Sinnott Fantastic Four -- not that we're done with that run; by no means -- we're just done for now! So let's get to it!
Karen: I did have a big folder with this image and I loved it. However I never took it to school -I knew what kind of heckling I'd get if I did. Anyway, on to the story.
Doug: As we left last issue, the FF (minus Sue) and Quicksilver blasted off in the pogo plane to rescue the Inhumans from invaders from the 5th Dimension. Led by the despot Xemu, the marauders had set up the Thunder Horn, a device that delivered devastating results when powered by voice or even concentrated thought. Once in the Hidden Land, the FF are greeted by deserted streets. Ben and Johnny are suddenly blindsided by an Inhuman, and our heroes are very quickly and all-too-easily captured.
Karen: I like how Ben said to Reed he felt Sue should've been with them. Reed's reasons for leaving her behind just don't wash. Another reason I never liked the guy! I agree, our heroes are taken down a little too easily.
Doug: I thought the reason for the easy capture was twofold: first, it obviously saved the FF from making any mistakes that might cost the lives of the royal family or any other innocent Inhumans. Secondly, it was a plot vehicle to re-introduce Valeria and her father Phineas. Did you feel that Roy was pushing the Torch's reprint series that was on the stands at this time? Or, was it that perhaps Roy saw the old 5th Dimension story from Strange Tales that was about to be reprinted and decided he's update it in his own way?
Karen: Chicken or the egg? Well, we know that Roy had a tremendous respect for the past and often found ways to incorporate old characters and ideas into his work. Heck, he even brought Golden Age characters no one had seen in 30 years into his stories!
Doug: So there's really not much of a point to the presence of our 5th-D "good guys", as when have we ever seen an adventure when Reed Richards couldn't determine a foolproof strategy or deduce the operations of some other-worldly mechanism? Big problem in this case, however, is the seemingly impenetrable prison. Xemu had put his captives in a flame-proof, draft-proof, and Thing-proof stone chamber. Ben's best shot only served to crack the walls and the floor. But when a bit of moisture started to ooze up, that's all that was necessary for Triton to burst up through the floor and rescue the FF.
Karen: I always liked Triton. Sure, he's probably even more useless than Medusa, but he looks a lot cooler!
Doug: Once outside, the team moved quickly to free Black Bolt and defeat Xemu. But in the interim, Xemu had done what any would-be conqueror would do -- he'd brought Medusa before Black Bolt and threatened her harm. Xemu had aimed the Thunder Horn at a Chinese military installation, and fired. Knowing the Chinese would respond immediately, he expected that the Hidden Land would be laid waste and the Chinese would assume a plot by either the Americans or the Russians had been put in motion. Ah -- these were Cold War times, no?
Karen: I gotta say, Xemu's "plan" is essentially to ravage the planet with atomic war so he can conquer it more easily? Uh....OK.
Doug: To wrap this one up, once the Chinese air forces can be seen, Xemu makes a beeline for the portal to his homeworld, leaving his minions behind. In the chaos, Sue Richards suddenly appears atop the Thunder Horn, throwing everyone off their game. The guards relax their hold on the Inhumans' energy-dampening bonds, and it's now a free-for-all. Reed attempts to embrace Sue, and she brushes him off (this, too, was in character -- the rift between the two had been deep since FF #141 when Reed had put Franklin's mind on hold) in order to maintain her concentration. See, she'd stowed away on the pogo plane, and had heard Xemu raving about the workings of the Thunder Horn. Using it to amplify her own thoughts, she'd used it to enhance her powers and had masked the Great Refuge from the Chinese. Successful, the danger seemed over. But what of Xemu? He'd been followed by the Torch, Quicksilver, Valeria, and Phineas, and was easily captured. After a kiss with Valeria, Johnny and Pietro hopped dimensions and rejoined everyone. After a quick resignation by Medusa and a re-joining by Sue, our heroes set off for Manhattan.
Karen: I was happy to see that Sue had indeed come with the team (it's been so long since I read this, I forgot!) and that she saved the day. The conclusion was fairly exciting, but really, Xemu is not a worthy foe for the FF. However, it did allow for Medusa to leave and Sue to return. Did you notice that on page 27, where Johnny is kissing Valeria, it has a distinct John Romita Sr. look? I can't help but think he either re-drew or heavily inked that page. And how do you feel about Johnny being back in his blue suit? I know you dug his red one!
Doug: I did notice that something was amiss with the art on the page you cite. And I thought Johnny looked good back in blue, but you're right -- I did like the red togs.
Doug: I declare, this was a fun little romp through some of the first FF stories I ever owned. Rich Buckler's art was dynamic, and his depictions of Ben and Johnny were quite good. The guy could choreograph a fight scene, couldn't he? And what of Roy Thomas? Next to Stan Lee, I haven't read many better at finding the voices on this team and sticking to that territory we call "familiar". I'd recommend these stories to anyone. Are there better? Sure. But this is a great slice of Bronze Age life, for sure.
Doug: Tune in one week from now, when Karen begins another month of FOOM Fridays!