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.
Karen has joined the ranks of podcasters along with her friends Larry and Bob on the Planet 8 podcast. Click on the image to hear them explore all things geek!
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons and a daughter-in-law.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
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BI #44 is available for digital download and in print. I've read Karen's article on reader reaction to Gerry Conway's ASM #121-122, and it's excellent. This entire magazine was fun! -- Doug
Back Issue #45
As if Karen's work on Spidey in the Bronze Age wasn't awesome enough, she's at it again with a look at the romance of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Back Issue's "Odd Couples" issue -- from TwoMorrows!
Karen's talking the Mighty Thor in the Bronze Age!
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