Monday, August 8, 2011

Thing 1 and Thing 2: Fantastic Four #161

Fantastic Four #161 (August 1975)
"All the Worlds At Once!"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott

Doug: Better strap in for this one, kids -- talk about a breakneck pace! This mag's near and dear to me -- it's one of the very first I can recall buying off the drugstore shelf myself, right around what would have been my 9th birthday. I got it in Milwaukee at a drug store across from the Boy Blue ice cream store near the corner of South 76th Street and Howard Avenue -- a six-block bike ride! Crazy that after all of these years I can remember that...

Karen: Don't you love memories like that? Completely insignificant, but I bet you can still feel the wind in your hair as you rode your bike away, comic in hand!

Doug: Opening this one up, a reader could be under the impression that they missed something! We find Reed in the FF's "Danger Room", testing himself against an assortment of missiles and lasers. He fares pretty well, but suddenly shuts down the test. He sulks as he returns his body to its normal form, and then self-declares that he's losing his stretching power, a suspicion he first arrived at a few issues earlier in battle against one of Dr. Doom's constructs. His sullen musing is interrupted by Sue, who ask him what is wrong. Reed lies, and says it's Johnny he's worried about. If you recall, Johnny was upset when Reed signed away the FF's rights to the mysterious Mr. Devoor last issue. Of course, Sue ain't buyin' it...

Karen: Reed really isn't playing around here! Explosives, lasers -and from Professor Xavier to boot! It was a nice slam-bang beginning. I like the way Reed's failing elasticity i
s shown -with his limbs not quite snapping back to normal shape right away. Boy, that's a terrible thought: what if he got stuck all stretched out? Eww! As for Sue not buying Reed's explanation, that he's worried about Johnny -well, I can only imagine that he has the worst poker face on the planet. The guy may be a genius but he's a dope when it comes to people.

Doug: We then cut to find Johnny just walking the streets in his FF uniform. He's talking to himself (and anyone else within earshot), when he reaches his breaking point and flames on -- to get to Reed in order to dispense a piece of his mind! Course, the locals cry out that he's a nut, which the Torch hears. So, mad at himself for making a bad scene, at Reed, and at the situation with Crystal, he flies off to the wilderness of Long Island to the portal to the 5th Dimension (last seen in FF #'s 158-159). Shoot -- nothing else is going right; might as well snuggle up with Valeria!

Karen: We got typical Reed, now we get typical Johnny: never thinking before he acts. The kid is a dang menace! I'd yell at him too if I were one of those people on the street. It was good to see that he was still smarting from Crystal dumping him, but of course his reaction is superficial -he just wants to find Valeria to take his mind off Crystal!

Doug: Once in the 5th Dimension, Johnny spies a couple of the city folk. Wanting to impress, and being the pompous jerk that he i
s, he flames on. Of course, no one recalls that he'd only recently saved the joint, so they attack. They level guns at him, calling him an androne. Johnny protests, but of course we have to have an altercation. He's knocked out of the air by rays of ice, and is being carried away when he's saved by Valeria and her father, Phineas. it's a good thing, too, as our lovable Torch was about to be dismantled as any "robot" should! Once freed, Phineas brings him up to speed on just what an androne is -- an android manufactured by the greatest enemy of the 5th Dimension: Reed Richards! But Johnny's thoroughly confused when Richards' photo appears on a monitor -- as the Thing! At that moment the andrones attack, but Johnny makes short work of them. Phineas asks the Torch if he'll lead the 5th Dimension against the attacks, and Johnny of course agrees.

Karen: I always liked the way the Torch's flames were depicted around this time, whether it was Buscema or Buckler drawing the book. He just looked much more dynamic, and well, fiery to me. But how hokey was it that the soldier's guns fired ice?

Doug: Next, we drop in on the Thing, in league with an other-worldly Ben and Sue Grimm. They are flying back to New York after their adventure in the castle headquarte
rs of their Earth's Reed Richards. But as they swoop into the city's airspace they are shocked to see the downtown area being menaced by a T-Rex! The Thing prepares for action when a pterodactyl buzzes them. The Thing grabs the flying reptile's leg, only to be dropped right over the T-Rex! Our guy avoids the pearly whites (and the pearly gates) and eventually floors the big lizard with one punch (shades of Alex Karras in Blazing Saddles)! Our Ben then spies a television with the President speaking -- Nelson Rockefeller! Now I don't know about you, but the first thing I thought of (on the re-read, not originally) was that this must be the Squadron Supreme's world (see our review of the Serpent Crown Affair). But apparently it's not -- this scenario with Rockefeller must have been discussed by Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart at some point, as each writer used it only months apart. Anyway, as our Ben listens to the report of these strange occurrences, he's suddenly hit by knock-out gas and felled... by the other Ben Grimm. This one just keeps getting weirder.

Karen: I had the same reaction as you: was this the same Earth as over in the Avengers? But no, apparently both writers must have just liked the idea of Rockefeller as president. I have no idea what the popular sentiment regarding Rockefeller was, but I almost have to wonder if he was considered a buffoon or a joke. I also got the impression that Ben was disparaging Ford a little here. Or maybe Roy just wanted to throw in his two cents about the way by which Ford became president.

Doug: Back on our Earth, Reed is called to a monitor by Sue, who's found reports of glacial movements and a potential ice age! Reed arrives just in time to hear the announcer declare that the attacks may be from a Fifth Dimension! Honing in on that line, Reed cues up a connection he'd been working on so that Johnny and Valeria could video chat (that Reed -- ages ahead of Skype!) and what should his wondering eyes spy but an invasion force set on our Earth... with the Human Torch at the front! As they say, to be continued!

Karen: I sort of feel like I need to be taking notes, or putting together a PowerPoint demo to keep all the players straight!

Doug: OK, so we're halfway through this 4-parter, and I have to say that Roy Thomas is crafting a tale with everything but the kitchen sink! Think about what we've seen so far -- an old Avengers foe in Arkon, alternate realities, castles, movie monsters, dinosaurs, the 5th Dimension, and the revelation that Reed's powers may be waning. Wow -- that's a lot to pack into two issues! The art so far has been solid.
Big John was able as always in the previous issue, and here we're back to the regular team (at the time of publication). Buckler's pretty good, and of course Joe Sinnott is his usual slick self. Although much of Roy's writing and references went over my head as a child, the plot here is pretty exciting. I'm looking forward to the second half!

Karen: This pretty much everything AND the kitchen sink writing! I honestly can't recall how this whole thing is resolved, so I'm looking forward to seeing how Roy juggles all of these disparate elements for another two issues. Of course, we know it's all connected via the big nasty corporation that seems behind all three worlds.


Fred W. Hill said...

Another fun romp and to be honest when I first read this as a kid I don't recall getting this confused with the Avengers story -- I think by this point I was used to all these multiple other Earths.
Probably it was that bit about Reed potentially losing his powers that most piqued my interest, and that subplot wouldn't be resolved until issue 200!

dbutler16 said...

Wow, I never knew, until reading the scan here, that the Human Torch had his own series back in the day. However, it was a little before my time and only lasted 9 issues (thanks, comicbookdb) so I guess it's not so surprising that I didn't know of it.

The way everything's being thrown in here, plus some time travel, and multiple sets of the same characters from different earths, it reminds me a bit of Busiek's Avengers Forever series.

Karen said...

DButler, IIRC, The Human Torch title in the 70s was just a reprint of his stories from Strange Tales in the 60s. I don't think there was any new material. Although when Marvel Team-Up first came out, the plan was to alternate Spidey and Torch as the stars, but well, you see how that worked out.


bliss_infinte said...

This was my first FF mag. When I look back on it now, it's just got a ton of crazy stuff going on.

dbutler16 said...

Ah, thanks for the info, Karen.

david_b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david_b said...

I'm not as big a Buckler fan, since I loved Buscema/Sinnott way too much. But I did always enjoy Buckler penchant for his dramatic splash and closing full-page cliff-hangers. The stories may have been dismal, but his final page was always cool.

Yes, I remember being let down by the Torch solo book, expecting like others, some new stories some team-ups. Despite the incredible leaning towards Spidey, having a Torch team-up every few months in MTU would have been good.

Lemnoc said...

Yes, I remember this book when it first hit the stands. I'd been reading FF for about a year or so. This marks the beginning of a long story arc that ends in an unsettling, tasteless bit with RR stranded in the Negative Zone with IIRC yet another RR from another reality (aka the Brute) shacking up with RR's unknowing wife (eww!).

I seem to recall Richards spending his time floating around on a Negative Zone rock, bellyaching and pumping himself up about his experiences in... WW2, of all things. This would probably put Richards in his mid- to late-50s even then, and I remember at the time thinking that seemed faintly ridiculous--like he hadn't been battle-tested since?? Maybe that arc was the last time the whole WW2 service thing got brought up in standard continuity?

At any rate, Valeria in her little knit skullcap looks pretty mod today!

david_b said...

Just to share this detail, I really didn't like these initial masthead 'heads' of the FF ~ MUCH preferred George Perez's redrawing of them.

Fred W. Hill said...

Just for clarification, those '70s Human Torch stories combined reprints from Johnny Storm's solo series from Strange Tales in the early 60s with reprints from the original Human Torch (Jim Hammond) stories from the '40s! I thought it only lasted 8 issues, all of which I collected at the time. Yeah, the stories weren't all that great, but they were a bit of absurdist fun (but not nearly as good as some Steve Gerber absurdities). I think in one tale the more antique Torch flew to Saturn or some other planet and back in a matter of hours and all under his own flame powers, causing my younger self to ponder how the heck he kept aflame when he got into space. Of course, the very idea of the Human Torch is so fantastically (or is that marvelously?) absurd that ya just gotta go with the flow.
Oh, and re Lemnoc's comment, that Brute story was rather creepy, although I didn't think it was truly tasteless, but it certainly had some elements of unsettling horror evocative of a Steven King novel. Realistically, though, Sue would've guessed much quicker that this was the wrong Reed -- after all, she already knew there was a doppelganger about and despite looking like her Reed and speaking with his voice, his mannerisms and behavior would have been significantly different enough that she or even Ben & Johnny should have figured it out within just a short time of hanging around him. Just another of those fantasy elements.

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