Monday, August 15, 2011

Thing 1 and Thing 2: Fantastic Four #162

Fantastic Four #162 (September 1975)
"The Shape of Things to Come!"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott

Doug: After some nice build-up over the past two issues, things... devolve. That's my opening impression -- we'll see what we come up with by the time we're done. It may be up to Karen if this one's to get a rave review.

Karen: Fraid not!

Doug: So when we left off, Johnny had taken command of the troops of the 5th Dimension (qualifications there?),
Ben had been imprisoned on another Earth, and the Reed Richards of an alternate Earth, who just happened to get the cosmic ray effect that our Thing got, was also in jail. The old Avengers villain Arkon was somehow mixed up in this, and underlying all of it was a plot to steal the technologies of both Reed Richards as well as of the 5th Dimension. Wow -- that was indeed a lot to digest over the past two issues, and creators Thomas and Buckler provide us with a couple of graphics to help us along. It's a decent recap, and to be honest, this is one story plot that needs that synopsis.

Karen: What's the old saying? "You can't tell the players without a scorecard?" In this case, it's more like a text book diagram! I laughed at the goofy picture of the three worlds and the arrows indicating who was attacking whom. Complicated story indeed.

Doug: On to the new stuff. Our Reed (writing this series has been a pain-in-the-butt with all of the same-name characters!) is working on a device that will melt the glaciers that are suddenly moving across the world. Suddenly a caveman invades the lab (what the heck did he use to break in?), followed by "an Indian with a tomahawk" -- yep, this Reed is accused of unleashing all sorts of weirdness due to the selling of Dr. Doom's time platform. Reed makes quick work of the invaders, when a vision suddenly appears in his mind; and then in the room above so that Sue can also see it (Duh Point #1). The Reed-Thing tells Mr. Fantastic what's been going on, how Mr. Devoor has deceived technology masters on three Earths, and how he's shackled and unable to break free. Mr. Fantastic says, hey -- how about if I apply my will to yours (Duh Point #2)? What the heck? OK, so Reed-Thing was using Arkon's "scopitron" to connect to our world, but how in tarnation did they exchange mental powers through what was basically an inter-dimensional TV?

Karen: I think Roy was inspired by the Interociter from "This Island Earth." I have no idea how Reed-2 used that device to project his thoughts to Reed-1, or how 'combining wills' allowed Reed-2 to break adamantium chains.
Of course, I probably didn't question it at all when I read this as a kid.
Doug: Anyway, once Reed-Thing has Mr. Fantastic's "will", he's able to burst his bonds and discovers that he's been imprisoned on his own world. Which is pretty convenient (Duh Point #3), because that's where our Thing is locked up. So you guessed it -- in a pretty cool visual the two orange-plated behemoths break out of jail and are greeted by none other than "Thunderbolt" Ross and the army (never mind that he identifies himself as a general in the Air Force). Soon Ben Grimm shows up (seriously -- if you haven't read this series of issues or don't happen to have them in front of you, I don't know how you're following all of this!) to point out what apparently no other person could see:
a gaping hole in the sky, through which the 5th Dimension army storms. And led by the Human Torch, no less! Johnny, being the hot-headed fool that he is, attacks first and asks questions later. He takes down the Thing pretty quickly, but then Reed-Thing dispenses a whuppin' that extinguishes the flame. After brief explanations that are too-soon-believed, the Torch commands the 5D army to go back. Just like that... "Uh, sorry guys..." (Duh Point #4).

Karen: Johnny being in a position of responsibility may be the most difficult thing to swallow in this whole story!

Doug: Johnny, Reed-Thing, and the Thing then pow wow, and suddenly, somehow, Mr. Fantastic appears in the sky (Duh Point #5 - the "scopitron" isn't on Earth, after all) with Devoor in hand and explains what will have to happen to right this crazy ship. Johnny and Reed-Thing will have to take an assault to Arkon's world, while the Thing must enter the inter-dimensional space and break up "the nexus" through which Arkon was going to funnel the energy of three worlds. Mr. Fantastic then tosses some skates through the rift in the sky (we've seen these before, back in the Kirby days) for Ben. And away we go! Johnny and Reed-Thing land where they belong (hey, whatever happened to Lockjaw in all this?), and the Thing heads off into space. As he approaches the nexus, he's opposed by an intergalactic hockey goalie who identifies himself as... Gaard! Yeah.

Karen: Oh man...Gaard. Even as a kid I thought that was just about the stupidest thing I'd ever seen. Honestly. A hockey goalie? I mean, sure, a guy flying around space on a surfboard makes no sense either, but at least it loo
ks cool. This just looks ludicrous.
Doug: You know what Roy's up to here? It took me three issues to figure it out. This is his version of "Crisis on..." Think about it -- multiple Earths, all similar. Heroes on all three (well, Johnny had to be transplanted). Universal menace in Arkon stealing energy. And some serious dimension-hopping to solve it.
I suppose when I look at it through that lens, and accepting it as being part of DC's heritage of such tales, this is not quite as bad. But reading it at first impression... not good. As you said earlier, I'm sure I didn't react so negatively when I was a wide-eyed 9-year old.

Karen: I like alternate realities, time travel, science fiction...but I'm just not warming up to this one. I don't care much for Arkon, and neither of the alternate worlds seem all that interesting. I have to agree, this story isn't terrible, but I'm just not feeling it.


Fred W. Hill said...

I can easily figure out how Roy (or Rich) came up with the idea for Gaard -- attending a hockey game and suddenly going, "oooh, that goalie's get-up looks just like a super-hero costume! We gotta come up with a storyline to use that in!" But, yeah, pretty ridiculous. Kirby could get away with it on the Silver Surfer, but even his Black Racer -- a ski demon! -- was just too silly, and here Roy & Rich manage to top that. Oh, well, I'm sure Roy didn't dream that fans would clamor for more Gaard stories.
Otherwise, those little charts actually helped my 13 year old self keep track of what was going on in this story-line, so the complexity didn't overwhelm me. This is really a mishmash of genres, with elements of sword & sorcery, corporate skullduggery, dopplegangers, alien invasions, time travel and even hockey. Sort of fun in a way but not really one of Roy's best.

Hoosier X said...

I think I like this story more now than I did when I first read it. That's probably nostalgia, exacerbated by the fact that I still have all 4 of these issues when so much of the rest of my comic book collection has been sold to pay for colllege or been misplaced or whatever.

My first issue of Fantastic Four was #165, but within a year or so I had almost every issue from #150 on, picking them up at used book stores, 2 for 25 cents (mostly in F to VF condition). I remember seeing the fan reaction to Gaard (in the letters page) before I actually saw Gaard, but I don't know if I would have found the idea so ridiculous on my own because there's so much CRAZEE stuff in the comics that it's often pretty easy to just slide right over it - especially when you're 12.

It does get a bit confusing (and I definitely remember thinking those little diagrams were pretty cool), but that is some awesome Buckler/Sinnott art.

J.A. Morris said...

I haven't read this one, and based on your review I probably won't. I generally love Bronze Age FF. But this story is likely one reason comics historians often say "read the Lee-Kirby stories, then skip to Byrne".

This FF saga also reminds me of another Thomas story, the Kang-Zarrko Tomorrow War, from Marvel Team-Up #9-11. That's a fun story, but it's one that doesn't make a lot of sense (even by Bronze Age comic standards)the second time you read it.

Doug said...

One of the things Karen and I agonize over when we prepare to do a comic review, or arc review, is being overly-critical. I promoted this present storyline to her, largely from my fond memories of it as a child -- this was the first "complete" FF story I can recall buying myself. So the nostalgia factor was running high when I suggested this. That being said, it's really, really difficult to approach these stories with that same youthful innocence.

And that frustrates us. We'd all like to experience the magic as it once was, but let's face it: reading a comic again, even after years have passed, it akin to watching a film or hearing a song multiple times. It's just not going to be the same. And looking at these stories through the lens of an adult? It just complicates matters, because I'd really like to love these books as I once did. So when I come across something like Thor Annual #5, which we reviewed last month, I'm just giddy for it. Holds up great!

So I appreciate some of your dissenting opinions -- that makes me happy that some can still love on these stories as a kid would. Maybe I need to alter my perceptions more. We shall see.

Thanks as always for tossing out your two cents!


Lemnoc said...

IIRC, this story really goes into cuckooland when Gaard removes his mask and we see a familiar face. And how is the Nexus different from the Negative Zone? They're drawn the same, at any rate.

Gaard seems like he should be a third stringer on Alpha Flight's third string.

Anonymous said...

Doug, that's one thing I've noticed about revisiting some of these stories that I remember fondly.....I see a lot of things differently compared to when I was eleven or twelve years old.

This was also around the time when I was able to actually complete a few story arcs by buying consecutive issues....shortly before my carrier stopped carrying comic books.

During this time, I was not only reading the current FF, but also going back and catching up on the Lee/Kirby FF in Marvel's Greatest Comics. It was lots of fun, but I did enjoy the oldies more.


Fred W. Hill said...

I know what you mean, Doug, regarding revisiting childhood favorites and finding some of them a bit silly. Then again, there are also those Bronze Age mags I didn't quite appreciate or entirely missed at the time but found later and really loved. This includes the Moench-Gulacy Master of Kung Fu -- I only latched onto the series after Gulacy was long gone, aside from a few covers, but was really bowled over when years later when I managed to get them. It's a travesty they can't be collected due to copyright problems over Fu Manchu! Gerber's Man-Thing series was another one that was hit and miss for me as a kid but which I grew to love in my adult years -- yeah, not every ish was a classic, but a lot of great stuff there.
Of course, people do have different tastes, so things some of us consider classics others will view as pure drivel, and vice versa. Still, fun to relive this stuff, thrill to the occasional touches of artistic brilliance and laugh at the most egregious examples of silliness.

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