RETRO REVIEW: Fantastic Four #118 (January 1972)

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Or – “What Happens AFTER An Iconic Run…”

Legendary creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did a notorious one-hundred-four issue run on Fantastic Four in the Silver Age, a feat that was almost as amazing then as it is now.  Of course, the creators who picked up the reins with #105 had a pretty tough row to hoe, and few of the events of the immediate-post Kirby run have long-lasting ramifications.  Of course, depending on your definition of “ramifications” (and possibly your definition of “long-lasting”) there are some interesting bits and pieces in these less-iconic seventies comics…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
The voices of the characters are solid.
An interesting concept.
Cons

Artistically odd…
More than a little bit bland.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

READER RATING!

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FF118CoverFANTASTIC FOUR #118
Writer: Archie Goodwin
Artist: John Buscema
Inker: Jim Mooney
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $50.00

Previously in Fantastic Four:  The
bombardment of cosmic rays that transformed the Fantastic Four into superheroes changed their lives, but didn’t alter their personalities.  Mister Fantastic, The Invisible Girl, The Human Torch and The Thing quickly became explorers of the unusual, defenders of their world and world-famous superhero-types.  Things got very unusual very quick, not the least of which was a love affair between the impetuous young Torch and Crystal, princess of the Inhumans, a reclusive batch of proto-humans with super-powers.  After a prolonged separation from her beau, Crystal has gone missing, and the FF have ventured out to find her.  Whatever they might have prepared for, the heroes didn’t expect to have to face the air power of a small nation in combat!

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The small Central American banana republic of Terra Verde n which the Fantastic Four find themselves has a particularly abusive government, willing to fire on their own citizens to maintain their corrupt power, but Johnny’s flames help to turn the tide, and he excitedly makes his way to the ground to greet his old flame…

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Her strange behavior continues, to the point where she attacks the Torch with her elemental might, smacking him down with a torrential gout of water, seemingly leaving him for dead.  What might make her act so strangely?  Could it beeeeee..

SATAN????

Okay, Diablo.  but close enough for third world government work, right?

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Using his potions and tinctures, Diablo has taken control of the Inhuman princess (and her not-so-little dog, too) and plans to use her to solidify his power base in Terra Verde.  Unfortunately, his foes are both fast and powerful, and quickly turn the tide against the master alchemist.  Diablo’s illusion is destroyed, and his “goddess” returned to her senses, but he plays for real, preparing a solution to destroy the FF (and also, the entirety of Terra Verde.)  However, in his quest for control, he forgot about the PREVIOUS dictator in play…

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As the potion hits the metaphorical fan, a massive explosion rocks the jungle, leading the heroes to fear the worst…

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The first story ends awkwardly, right in the middle of the book (for reasons we’ll get to in a moment), but there’s still a few pages left, pages which give us what the late Paul Harvey would call…

…The REST… of the story.  We begin as the Thing and Lockjaw materialize in a strange, dark alley, where they are suddenly attacked by a man calling The Thing, “Holmes.”  A big rocky fist crushes the ersatz Professor Moriarty, revealing him to be an android with the face of REED RICHARDS!  Responding to confusion with mass destruction (as always), The Thing finds even stranger games are afoot!

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The strange landscape changes once again, and it becomes clear that someone has a pretty big mad-on for Reed Richards…

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Yep, they’ve ended up in an alternate universe!  The other Thing explains to him that he hates Reed Richards because, in their world, only TWO people went on the fateful cosmic-ray-infused mission, and that he was mutated like our world’s Thing.  Ben reminds his alternate self that he got the better end of the deal, given that he’s not only The Thing, but a super-genius, after which Alt-Thing smiles bitterly and sets The Thing free to return home. Then, the other shoe drops…

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Though the Thing didn’t tell Reed about his visit to the strange world, the entire team would later return to what they dubbed “Earth-A”, in a story that revealed what happened to that world’s Johnny Storm.  So, two questions remain, the first being, “Why does the issue end so awkwardly in mid-stream?”  Regular podcast listeners will recall me making juvenile jokes about a comic called “Giant-Size Man-Thing,” but what you may not realize is that, in the early 70s, all of Marvel’s books went Giant for a few months.  The larger package and larger price tag weren’t immediately embraced by the readers, though, which led to a return to the regular format (with a cover price increase, natch.)  Of course, several issues had been prepped for the Giant-Size format, leading to this odd structure of this issue (and the ones immediately before and after.)

Of course, the other question is, what drew me to an otherwise normal issue of Fantastic Four?  THAT story involves She-Hulk, and Dan Slott.  When Slott relaunched She-Hulk a few years ago, he found problems with a particular storyline that implied that Shulkie had enjoyed a dalliance with The Juggernaut.  Throughout his run on the book, She-Hulk denied any naughty-naughty with Jugs, while he repeatedly referred to their fling in Uncanny X-Men and Excalibur.  Eventually, it was discovered that a duplicate She-Hulk was extant, and that this version of Jennifer Walters came from none other than Earth-A!

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The line about “taking five minutes to read their handbook” and “some A-hole” letting things get through are clearly more meta than straightforward, but the idea that duplicates from Earth-A are responsible for any story that doesn’t make sense (or, to be honest, any story that I don’t care for) is a very appealing one, and one that adds a new dimension to the original tale.  That said, it kind of needs the dimension, as this story falls squarely in a period of the Fantastic Four’s history that was particularly dry and more than a little bit blah in its execution.  Fantastic Four #118 is nothing special, with John Buscema aping Jack Kirby as much as he could, and a sense of inconsequentiality permeating Archie Goodwin’s story, earning a somewhat disappointing (especially in comparison to that which came before) 2 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆