Monday, August 22, 2011

Thing 1 and Thing 2: Fantastic Four #163


Fantastic Four #163 (October 1975)
"Finale!"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott

Doug: Here's our big finish to what I've called Roy Thomas' version of DC's famed "Crisis on..." team-ups. Last week I was pretty critical of the "everything but the kitchen sink" elements, as well as some dopey deus ex machina maneuvers by Thomas. We'll see how this turns out today.

Doug: If you recall at the conclusion of our last installment, Ben was charged with spiriting a device to a nexus in between dimensions. Said device would shut down the portal, effectively negating Arkon's ability to funnel atomic power to his own world. Trouble is, an inter-galactic hockey goalie named "Gaard" showed up to protect the nexus. And that's where we begin, with a tussle between Ben and this Gaard character. Gaard, complete with ice skates. Uh huh. No wait -- I'm going to try to be civil this issue. Anyway, Ben's not sure on his own skates, and Gaard obviously knows what he's doing, so this isn't going well. Ben attempts to throw the doohickey he was sent to deliver, but Gaard parries that as well. As they battle, Ben thinks to himself that Gaard's voice is familiar -- and why not? We've seen two Bens and two Reeds already. Maybe it's Doc Doom in the hockey get-up!



Karen: Oh, the utter indignity that would be! I still don't know why anyone thought a hockey goalie would make a great villain. That's a head-shaker. And why would Arkon, from a planet presumably without the sport of hockey, devise a guardian like this? Shouldn't he look more like an ancient Greek warrior or something?

Doug: As Ben continues to meet defeat, he's about to give up when Reed pops into his head, offering not only encouragement but impressing on him that the fate of three worlds hangs in the balance. Of course Ben decides to soldier on, and squares with Gaard again. Reed, Sue, and DeVoor are watching on a monitor on our Earth. We get a recap of the first three issues, and DeVoor explains how Arkon became involved in the first place. It's a plausible story, I suppose, although as I've said -- Roy's execution in the third issue got a bit sloppy. Anyway, Sue has found Johnny on another monitor, and as they tune in we see the Torch and Reed-Thing's onslaught against Arkon's royal guards.

Karen: I'm not even sure how Arkon could put this plan together, since he seems like a high-strung maniac. He came across better in the earlier Avengers story, and later on in X-Men.

Doug: Our heroes infiltrate the palace all-too-easily, and Johnny flies off to the throne room to engage Arkon directly.
It doesn't go well. And as Johnny's about to be put down for good, a giant orange-plated arm bursts through the wall; Reed's on the scene. But wait... did he really say he used the sound of Arkon's voice to determine their location? Huh? Oops -- supposed to be nice this issue. While Arkon's occupied, Johnny flames on and severs Arkon's quiver of lightning bolts, leveling the playing field. It doesn't take Reed-Thing long to put him down. Roy does give us some nice, melodramatic dialogue from Reed as he compares Arkon to both Hitler and Napoleon; in the midst of this soliloquy we also learn that the Johnny Storm of his Earth had been killed in Vietnam. It's a poser for the Torch, as Sue comes on the vid-comm.

Karen: The Torch sure came across as a lightweight in these issues. First Reed-2 takes him out last time, now Arkon. The reference to Johnny dying in Vietnam certainly dates this story. It also brings a certain somber tone to an otherwise ridiculous romp.


Doug: Reed's been told by DeVoor that only two beings can occupy the hyperspace in front of the nexus: Gaard and one other. Arkon devised it that way so that world's would send only their champions. But Reed's onto something, and as Ben begins to mount another offensive, both Reed's appear in his mind and urge him to stay back for a few minutes. It's at this point that Gaard remarks that he feels like he's fought Ben before. Curious... Suddenly another Thing appears, complete with the disk-bomb Ben has been carting around. Gaard is distracted, as Arkon had told him that only two lives could inhabit the space at once. Seeking a solution, he hurls his "scepter" (hockey stick) at the new creature, who turns out to be a phantom. Now unarmed, he's a sucker for Ben's big punch and is knocked away from the nexus long enough for Ben to deliver the bomb. As expected, the nexus implodes, cutting off Arkon's attempt to steal energy from the destruction of three worlds.


Karen: The atomic hockey puck saves three worlds. Oh boy.

Doug: Disgraced, Gaard gives Ben his leave. As Ben departs, he muses to himself that for once he's curious about a foe. He feels there was something more to this particular super-baddie, but he leaves anyway. As we see Gaard sulk away, he removes his mask. The Johnny Storm that had been destroyed in Vietnam was claimed by Arkon and brought back to life, conditioned as the guardian of the nexus.
Not who he was, but something different; it's no wonder he and Ben seemed familiar to each other. Soon, our own Johnny and Ben return to the Baxter Building and some brief explanations are given. And as our story began with Alicia seeing Ben on the streets, we end with the two of them meeting up in Reed's lab. It's a joyful reunion.

Karen: I am again confused -why would Arkon go to all the trouble to get the dying Johnny Storm and turn him into Gaard? This just doesn't make any sense to me. And why was Gaard such a hulking brute? I guess he must have altered Johnny's body too. It wrapped up a little too easily, with no reference to the Fifth Dimension at all. Nor did we get a 'good-bye' from Reed-2.

Doug: OK, so summary evaluation? I thought this was a story that had an "epic" feel to it. Overall it was pretty good -- I recalled that I enjoyed it as a kid, and for the most part it holds up. I'm still not totally sold on the execution of certain elements in the third issue (FF #162), but you generally can't go wrong with time travel and alternate dimensions. The suspension of disbelief has to be ratcheted up a notch, as anything becomes possible. So if I look at this through that lens, I suppose my complaints could be considered misplaced.

Karen: I have to say, I'm pretty unimpressed with these issues. Typically I enjoy these kind of things, where everything but the kitchen sink is tossed at the reader, but this just left me cold. I did enjoy the Buckler/Sinnott art.

6 comments:

david_b said...

I've been withholding comments on this 'saga' until now, especially the sight of Gaard..

Tell me, was.. Steve Gerber somehow in the room when Roy was story-boarding this..? This bit of lunacy would be better suited for ol' Howard.

Now, yes, a 'cosmic surfer' is a bit of a '60s joke, probably sillier when you actually lived back in the mid-60s as a teen or something. But there was a sleek, cosmic, surreal appeal to Surfy ~ You just don't get that here with.. a hocky player.

And the identity being none-other than Johnny Storm..? "THAT was Roy's plan..?" This reeks on several key levels, despite the Thomas-centric injections of weight and ponderings (Johnny's death in 'Nam..). But as Karen mentioned, some stories are just passable for the art.

Redartz said...

Even when this book originally came out, I thought "Gaard" to be a rather silly character. Stronger storylines both preceded and followed this arc; but as Karen and Daved noted, the art definitely helped. Always enjoyed the Buckler/Sinnott combination...

Inkstained Wretch said...

Rooy Thomas and Rich Buckler would work much better together on All-Star Squadron.

david_b said...

Not surer how this will come across, but the idea of Gaard reminds me of the style of story Roy was writing a few years back with Gideon, the Shaper, and the 50s hipster stories with Medusa (136-137...). It was entertaining then (similar story gaps..), but it didn't quite come across well or as entertaining this time out. Roy's stories like those worked better during the 'Medusa phase' than this..

Fred W. Hill said...

From the secret notes of Roy Thomas, after Wanda had rebuffed Arkon in those old Avengers mags, Arkon sulked in his den, drinking beer and eating pretzels and got hooked on televized hockey games and soap operas. While thus enraptured, he devised his master plan to kidnap Private Johnny Storm and force him to play cosmic hockey just because that's the sort of devious lothario Arkon is. Obviously, Buckler had to use some artistic license to hide Arkon's beer belly.

B Smith said...

I've held off commenting on this run of issues till now, as, thanks to the spotty distribution where I grew up, this was the first issue I'd seen since #158....and boy, had things changed!

(I did pick up the issues between years later, but reading them felt more like filling in the gaps than part of the story proper)

And I loved it - in my opinion, this run of issues scripted by Roy up to #180-something, is second only to the original Lee-Kirby run...yep, I liked it better than the Byrne issues that came later (in fact, I hope you'll eventually get around to going over the issues following).

At the age that I was, and the fact that in Australia ice hockey is virtually unknown as a sport (as in played, that I'm aware of), the goalie-inspired look of Gaard went straight over my head*...but it mattered not. The script had lots of nice touches: I quite liked the fact that, having been defeated, Gaard showed no interest in maintaining the fight, and that Ben wasn't quite up for it himself...it seemed at odds with the way things generally went (I expect getting near the end of the page count had something to do with it as well:-))


*and once it did become clear, it didn't worry me too much; it didn't seem any sillier than anything in the Marvel Universe

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