Doug: Welcome to the third Super-Blog Team-Up, the second in which the Bronze Age Babies have participated. If you're landing here from one of the other participants, we sure hope you'll like what you see around this space -- be sure to come back again soon! To our regulars, we always appreciate your participation and know you'll happen by our other "partners" in the next day or so.
Doug: If there's one major thing we do around here, it's discuss comic books! Today we're featuring the Frightful Four, that collection of do-badders that menaced the Fantastic Four in the Silver and Bronze Ages (and perhaps beyond, but we don't deal in that sort of thing).
Doug: The Wizard's finest attribute may be that massive ego! I think these blokes from the beginning were simply bent on attention-getting behaviors. If there's a line between Marvel and DC villains in the Silver Age, it may be the fact that the DC guys were always out for some sort of personal gain, while at the House of Ideas it seemed to be all about expressing one's machismo. And as we'll see throughout our brief survey, the Wizard "always had a weakness for skirts".
Karen: In issue #38 (May 1965), the Frightful Four return, and they've made a few changes. Paste Pot Pete has switched to his Trapster name, reflecting a more serious threat by the group. And Medusa has a redesigned uniform that gives her a sleeker, sexier look. The bad guys grab Sue Storm and use her as bait to lure the rest of the Fantastic Four to a Pacific atoll where the Wizard plans to detonate a "Q-bomb" that will kill the FF (and anything else in a large radius). The two teams battle on the atoll and the Frightful Four actually get the upper hand, managing to escape before the bomb goes off. The FF survive within one of the Invisible Girl's force fields, but lose their powers...but that's a whole different story. The Frightful Four actually seemed pretty dangerous at this point, having nearly accomplished their task. There was a certain level of ruthlessness to them that was rather scary, particularly given the era.
Doug: In the "interesting" department, raw beats schtick every time. There has to be a true sense of danger for an antagonist to be acceptable.
Karen: The third appearance of the Frightful Four was the most exciting -and for me, the most memorable! Originally appearing in Fantastic Four #41-43 (Aug-Oct 1965), I first read this tale in the pages of the 70s reprint title, Marvel's Greatest Comics. By this point, many things had come together for the World's Greatest Comic Magazine, not the least of these being the art - Kirby's work had begun to take on the qualities we would associate with his FF run, despite the fact that these issues are inked by Vince Colletta and not Joe Sinnott. But the story is the real key -it's a terrific thriller where the villains manage to kidnap the Thing and brainwash him into attacking his friends. This was a tale with emotional heft, and it definitely made the Frightful Four seem like an A-class threat for the FF. We also get some tantalizing glimpses of internal conflict, as there is jostling for leadership of the group between the Wizard and Medusa. Sadly, this would never be developed. Despite this encouraging start, the villainous group would disappear for five years, not showing up again until the lackluster Fantastic Four #94 (Jan. 1970), which was the last time we saw the original line-up together -although Medusa only rejoined so she could warn the FF, who were now her good friends. It's truly puzzling that this team was left out to hang for so long, but when you look at all of the other concepts introduced by Lee and Kirby immediately following the Frightful Four's introduction -the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Black Panther, etc. - perhaps there simply wasn't room for them! They got much more mileage in the Bronze Age.
Doug: We know Stan could turn on a dime with an idea; Medusa's changing allegiances would be a prime example. While a capable villainess, she became equally acceptable later on as a noble ally. And I think you're right about the succeeding years, truly the Fantastic Four's golden age. With all of the heavy hitters the Lee/Kirby juggernaut created, the Frightful Four became small-timers quickly.
Thundra was a champion for women, calling Medusa "sister" in FF #129 (Dec. 1972). Possessing super-strength and seemingly limitless stamina, she was brought on board to handle the Thing (so who would the Sandman shift to fighting?). Problem is, she took a shine to ol' Ben Grimm and that sort of complicated her membership in the Frightful Four. But oddly enough, her infatuation with the Thing was not all love-based -- no, in fact her attention seemed to be focused on kicking Ben's butt in a one-on-one throwdown. Yet Thundra could be harsh to women as well, as she spoke in no uncertain terms to Medusa when the Inhuman used her living tresses against the Femizon.
Doug: And how about that cover by Jim Steranko for FF #130 (Jan. 1973)?
Karen: Thundra was certainly an interesting addition to both the Frightful Four and the title. Her motivations always seemed to make her less of a team player though.
Doug: While Fantatic Four #148 (July 1974) has a great Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott cover, the adventure inside leaves a little bit to be desired. This is temporally an odd issue in that it falls in between a larger story involving Sue's leaving Reed for the Sub-Mariner. But, I suppose in real life we bounce from one vignette to another... Anyway, upon losing Round One to Namor, Ben, Reed, Medusa, and Johnny return to the Baxter Building to find that the Frightful Four have again infiltrated it (I don't know who the doorman was at this point, but he was doing a rotten job!). There's a nice battle between the Sandman and Reed, and also Johnny and the Trapster. But this was a done-in-one tale, so there really wasn't too much drama. The Wizard is able to use his anti-gravity discs to put Medusa and Reed out of the battle, but it's Thundra's deus ex machina appearance that wins the day for our heroes. When the straits are at their most dire, the 7-foot beauty mysteriously materialized right in the thick of it all (in a Buckler/Sinnott image that would adorn the first series of the 7-11 Slurpee cups) and took the fight out of the evil FF. She didn't have any trouble being accepted by Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa, either. In fact, on the issue's closing two-page splash of Namor announcing a new war against the surface people, Conway's script refers to five "friends". Oh -- and we're never given any rationale for this latest attack by the Frightful Four. We're left to deduce that they a) just wanted a scrap and/or b) the Wizard continued to pine for Reed Richard's technology files.
Karen: The revolving door on the fourth member had started and wouldn't stop. While the original three baddies now had every reason to hate the FF, it was getting harder to make sure that fourth member matched their fervor. I would also say that this is when the Frightful Four started to feel like a second rate group -they can't maintain any cohesiveness and their plans are now far less successful. A far cry from the team of the Silver Age.
Doug: I think you're exactly right. As I read over these 1970s appearances, there just didn't seem to be any motivation. If nothing else, I thought it was a broken record that the Wizard wanted to steal Reed's tech, the Sandman seemed to have an inferiority complex against the entire FF, and the Trapster... well, he was the Trapster. How many super-villains have been in as high-profile a magazine yet disrespected more as an adversary? So add in a fourth member -- any fourth member -- and the right chemistry should have allowed this thing to take off. Yet, it seemed formulaic to have the Frightful Four implode on themselves, never seeing any of their machinations through to any sort of hard result.
Doug: One of the stories we've discussed reviewing in 2014 is the Frightful Four 2-parter that trailed the very fun Impossible Man tale from FF #176. In Fantastic Four #177-178 (Dec. 1976-Jan. 1977) the Frightful Four has taken control of the Baxter Building (again) and is holding auditions for a fourth member! And even that gets wild and woolly, as a new character named the Texas Twister shows up (we'd see him again against Johnny in FF #192) and literally blows everyone away. He wouldn't be a good fit around the Sandman, however. Captain Ultra had a costume only Wonder Man could appreciate, but had a pathological fear of fire. Uh, no. So after some time of interview/audition/failure -- including Thundra and Tigra, each of whom immediately turns on the three main FF members, a new candidate presents himself and makes a strong case for himself. As Thundra and Tigra wreaked havoc on their would-be suitors upstairs, the Wizard was able to commandeer a microphone and broadcast to the applicants in the lobby to send help immediately. Careful what you ask for... On a sidenote, the art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott is striking during this period.
Karen: Boy, there were some real stinkers that showed up for those try-outs... talk about desperation!
Doug: Not being a regular reader of the Warlock mag, I had no idea that the Brute and his alter ego -- the Reed Richards of Counter-Earth -- were characters in Warlock #6-7. This guy is particularly nasty: as large as the Hulk, way smarter, and just as aggressive. He makes short work of Ben in their first encounter, tossing him into the Negative Zone! And that's how he's exposed as an alternate-Reed -- how in the world could the Brute have known just which switch to throw to jettison Ben into the abyss? Later, our Reed also gets tossed into the Zone, but that's after the Frightful Four portion of the story is over. And what of the Four fiends? They are used pretty typically in this tale, although Roy Thomas adds quite a bit of humor to it. I'd have to say that there was more characterization here than we'd seen before. By the end of #178, the Fantastic Four, along with their allies Thundra and Tigra, make relatively short work of the Wingless Wizard, Sandman, and the Trapster.
Karen: At the time, my knowledge of the Brute was limited like yours. I don't think Warlock had great distribution! But after picking up the Warlock Marvel Masterwork volume 1 and reading through all of those early issues, I have a greater appreciation for him. I do like the idea of Counter-Earth, and the duplicates that live there. It's a great "What If?" On that world, our four heroes made their spaceflight, but did not receive super-powers, and so the Fantastic Four was never born. Further, Sue Storm went into a coma upon crash landing on Earth. The stress of causing Sue harm, and some manipulation by the satanic Man-Beast, gave rise to Counter-Reed's alter-ego. Having him become a Hulk-like creature is a nice twist. Although we know any Reed from any universe could never stand playing second fiddle to the Wizard!
Doug: So there you have a brief synopsis of this cadre of knuckleheads from your friends at the BAB. Now it's your turn! What did you like/dislike about the Frightful Four, which were your favorite stories, and how might they have been better used across the Marvel Universe -- not just as antagonists for the Fantastic Four? There were later iterations of this FF, past the Bronze Age, with a myriad of members (including Hydro-Man, Klaw, and Man-Bull) -- does anyone have feelings positive or negative toward those stories?
Doug: And now that you're done here, be sure to check out the other 11 writers participating in this round of Super-Blog Team-Up:
Silver Age Sensations -- The Voracious Villainy of the Crimson Dynamo
Flodo’s Page -- The Villainous Villainies of The Lamp-Lighter
Longbox Graveyard -- Thanos: Love & Death
Between The Pages -- Two Villains Rule The World of Cakes: Darth Vader & Boba Fett
Superior Spider-Talk -- Chameleon: Peter Parker's Parents Are Androids?
Fantastiverse -- Green Goblin: The Art of Villainy and Madness
Chasing Amazing -- Carnage: How I Helped Create This Monster
Retroist -- Doom: Of Destiny and Denial
The Daily Rios -- JLA: Beasts storyline
The Unspoken Decade -- Godkillers: Doomsday and Bane