Monday, July 9, 2012

Giant-Size July: Giant-Size Fantastic Four 4

Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 (February 1975)
"Madrox the Multiple Man"
Chris Claremont/Len Wein-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott/Chic Stone

Doug: Giant-Size July, round two, friends! Today's fare comes during the time when Medusa was substituting for Sue (just look at that cover, natch!) and the X-Men had yet to become All-New or All-Different. We could probably come up with a neat list of characters attached to one character or team who debuted in an entirely unexpected location. This book would be one of those, as it introduces us to X-Men C-lister Jamie Madrox, aka the Multiple Man.

Doug: Wet blanket time for me, and right off the bat. I want to first nitpick the art, and if you look at the credits above you may wonder where the heck I'm going with this. Chic Stone is the focus of my initial reaction, which wasn't positive. I didn't find it all that difficult to pick out the pages and panels that were inked by Joltin' Joe Sinnott and the ones inked by Stone. Stone's a fine inker in his own right, back in his time. But by now we'd become very used to Sinnott holding the FF "look" together. And, much as it pains me to even say it, this is not John Buscema's finest hour. I'd even argue that his work here appears to have been rushed. I've at times criticized Big John's faces on the 3/4 turn angle; that is true in this story. But hey -- Johnny B. on an off-day is how much better than your average shmoe? Lastly, and this is a dart for Len Wein: Joe Namath was a quarterback. QBs do not "go out for a long one"; wide receivers "go out for a long one". Duh... OK, that's enough nasty out of me for today -- happy thoughts (I hope) the rest of the way!

Karen: We're in complete agreement on the art. Stone's work always seemed heavy and inelegant, particularly when compared to Sinnott. As for the football gaffe: well, the co-writer of this story was Claremont, who made a couple of notable sports mistakes in X-Men, (as we've commented on in previous posts) so maybe it was him. If you don't know sports, don't try to write about them!

Doug: We pick this one up on a Sunday morning in the autumn of 1975, as Ben and Alicia make their way to the subway to catch a train out to Shea Stadium to watch the Jets. But alas, nothing is easy. Ben of course walks slowly with Alicia, and danged if that train isn't pulling out of the station! Not to be made to wait, Ben solves the problem his way -- albeit with a big "whoops!" He grabs for the door and rips it clean off. Alicia chides him, as does the transportation authorities. Ben laments what Reed will say when he gets the bill. Then suddenly the train bumps to a halt -- a conductor tells Ben there's a man on the tracks! Ben heads for the roof, and then storms to the front of the train. No drugged up hippie or wino is going to make him miss his Jets. But what do his wondering eyes see, but a man -- emitting an energy field -- looking really confused. The guy identifies himself as Madrox, but is somewhat incoherent. Ben's patience is at an end, so off comes the coat, the shirt and it's go time! However, Ben quickly finds that to strike Madrox is to make Madrox -- a Multiple Man!

Karen: I'm just having trouble getting past Ben's big fur coat. That's the strangest thing I think I've ever seen him in.

Doug: The coat?  Check out the shoes!  By the way, I did not know that Jamie Madrox had super strength. My encounters with him are pretty limited. I thought his powers were basically like Triplica te Girl's/Duo Damsel's. But then, we found some confusion in Luornu's powers, too, didn't we? Madrox eventually splits into six men, and their combined might puts Ben down for good. He blacks out, only to awaken in the Baxter Building over six hours later!

Karen: What? He's gone toe to toe with the Hulk, and Madrox knocks him out for 6 hours? I smell the stench of inconsistency. I do think later on Madrox was basically like Duo Damsel -all of his selves were basically normal guys.

Doug: Reed wants a recap, which Ben gives to him. While that's going on, some of Reed's meters and registers start to go off the charts -- there's a major power dampening going on across Manhattan. Cut to Madrox, wandering the streets. He is still incoherent, dazed. His mind takes him back to his origin. His father was a bigwig at the Los Alamos Nuclear Research Center, but resigned shortly after baby Jamie began to exhibit his duplication powers. The family -- mom, dad, and baby -- moved to an isolated farm in Kansas where Dr. Madrox designed a special suit for his son. They lived in anonymity, until the day a tornado took the lives of Jamie's parents. Distraught, he nonetheless made a go of it by himself, farming the land. Until the night he got a terrible energy feedback from the television -- which somehow gave him the impulse to begin wandering eastward across America.

Karen: A tornado killed h
is parents -but the art shows them in bed, as if they'd died in their sleep! Seems like the standard "Son standing over the graves" shot would have worked better.

Doug: Fully agreed on the tornado-deaths; strange choice to depict what should be a melancholy scene.  Instead it comes off as a real head-scratcher.  As Madrox continues to wander closer to the Baxter Building, R eed figures out that he is somehow consuming all of the energy in New York, effectively leaving it a dead zone in his wake. As it becomes evident that our perp is on the very roof of the FF's HQ, Johnny blazes right through the roof (seriously -- haven't we seen that the windows in this skyscraper actually do open?) and confronts Madrox. That lasts all of four panels. Reed saves Johnny from going "Splattt!!" on the pavement, and then it's Ben's turn. Same outcome -- Ben lasts three panels. As usual, we see the FF fight as individuals, with none of them really making any headway. As their fighting is futile, they are interrupted by the arrival of a helicopter. A man in a wheelchair descends in a "vortex beam" -- a man we know as Professor X! He tells Reed that he's come for Madrox, that he knows of him and was the one who recommended to his father that the boy be isolated as a child. The fighting, however, continues, and it's not until Xavier mind-whacks all of the duplicates that had been created that Reed can get close enoug h to hotwire the safety settings on Madrox's suit. Dude goes out like a light, and Xavier is able to claim him, to spirit him away to Westchester.

Karen: Wow, does this seem like it was written in a hurry! Reed states that Madrox has the whole New York power grid behind his punches, so I guess that answers our questions about his strength. Professor X says the reason Madrox is out of control is because his suit hasn't been maintained for six years, and some control elements have burned out. But then Reed says the
y need to disconnect the control elements! What?

Doug: I thought this story was OK, a bit offbeat. I'll be honest -- there's a reason Madrox remains a C-lister. There's just not enough here to make me say "gee, I wonder what happened next?" I don't know if Wein and Claremont were somehow auditioning the guy for Giant-Size X-Men #1 or what. I would find it very difficult to believe that he would have in any way upgraded the new X-Men. As I said at the top, the art is not the best -- still solid Bronze Age fare, but not the best. And as to the dialogue... those of you who didn't care for Wein's treatment of Ben's speech patterns in our Marvel Feature #11 feature wouldn't like this either. It's just not what Stan Lee or Roy Thomas would have written.

Karen: At least the art got easier to look at in the last half of the book, when Sinnott took over. This is a very forgettable story. It just seemed like something that was cobbled together quickly and with little thought. I have no idea if they planned to make Madrox an X-Man, but I have always thought the duplicating power to be one of the most useless. Here, Madrox has super-strength because somehow his suit is absorbing the power from the NYC grid. But otherwise -hey, instead of fighting one normal guy, now you're fighting five normal guys! Yeah, whatever.

Doug: The remainder of the book contains a reprint of Fantastic Four #28, featuring the X-Men, the Puppet Master, and the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android. There are also seven pin-ups by Jack Kirby, I'd assume reprinted from previous annuals: the Impossible Man, the Hulk, the Red Ghost, the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android, the Super Skrull, the Molecule Man, and the Hate-Monger. And if you really want to know about some true Bronze Age goodness, the Marvel Value Stamp is #2 and feature the Hulk!

Karen: The MVS is probably the best reason you could have bought this thing back in the day!


david_b said...

Being a big fan of the Medusa/Johnny Redsuit phase of the FF, I'd typically be picking up these final issues, but GS FF's have been frustrating to enjoy on several counts especially after the first one brimmed with so much appeal, one of the better Hulk/Thing Bronze bouts.

I picked up GS FF ish's 2 and 3, and found the story concepts still very intriguing with Ben back in the roaring 20s, Reed and Johnny back in the Revolutionary War (ok, not exactly fighting Galactus, but potentially a nice breezy summer read from Conway..) then fighting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but the execution's lacking.

The art's consistently spotty ~ I never read a classic where artists/inkers are changed up mid-story; and the story's didn't have focus, at least to drive home a nice, satisfying ending. Not sure what other projects Chris and Len were writing at the time, but it looks like they got more attention than these issues. There's limits to how good art can carry a story.

Seeing Chic inking Buscema in the regular series this year (1975), he didn't do too bad when John B. had game, but when the layouts are rushed, that's when you REALLY need Mr. Sinnott in the final inning. Unfortunately you see a lot of it here in ish 4 and Mr. Stone's not your man.

And to make matters worse, a lackluster cover (the later GS FF reprint issues had better covers..).

Overall, this chapter of FF history lost emotional resonance after the moving Reed-Sue-Franklin storyline in ish 141. I'd file this as wanting to pick this up to fill holes in what I've hailed as my favorite FF period, but as an adult I'd prefer to hunt this down in a dollar bin and keep saving for more nice Silver Age gems.

Edo Bosnar said...

I read this issue one awesome summer (I think it was 1980), when I borrowed this wonderful box full of several years worth of mainly Marvel comics from 1975 and before. I remember liking it all right mainly because of the tie-in with X-men, which I was really into at that point.
However, based on your rundown, and the panels you posted here, I have to admit it doesn't look very good. One thing I remember vividly, though, is the Thing in that superfly get-up at the beginning. I still can't figure out what they were thinking with that, but it is incredibly hilarious...

dbutler16 said...

Hey, it wasn’t really the writer’s sports error, but Ben Grimm’s. Maybe Ben doesn’t know anything about football. Not buying that excuse? Me either.

Anyway, it is weird reading this and seeing all of these other powers for Madrox. Apparently, they changed his skill set a bit later on, as this was his first appearance. I agree with Karen that the multiplication power is fairly useless, at least in battle. It may be semi-useful for espionage, though. Then again, I’d always thought Medusa’s power fairly useless, yet she’s always made out to be rather powerful.

Fred W. Hill said...

I rarely ever got any of the Giant-Size mags, mainly because I either couldn't find them at my usual comics sources or I just didn't have enough money to buy them! Of course, this was really only frustrating in the case of all those Englehart Avengers stories that continued from the regular mags into the Giant-Size issues. Wasn't until I was well into adulthood that I filled some of those Giant-Sized holes in my collection. This mag remains one of the holes, however, and given the review not one I'm particularly anxious to fill. Most of those old FF's with Chic Stone inking look awful to me, even on such a classic tale as the FF/Avengers/Hulk brouhaha in issues 24 & 25. I do remember seeing ads for GS-FF #2 and being intrigued enough by the cover to wish I could get it, and I also liked the idea of the 4 Horsement tale, but when I finally did read them, ages later, like David B, I found the execution lacking. Ah, well, they can't hit one out of the bowling alley every time (uh, did I really just screw up my sports metaphor?).

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