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Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Possibly the single gaudiest costume Jack ever designed makes its first appearance in this... THE MARK OF THE MADMAN

As we learn on page 1 of this comic; Crystal didn't actually ask *anybody* for permission before deciding she was going to join the FF last issue, which extends a little past casual rudeness when you consider the fact that she's the princess of an entire secret civilization of super-humans, and so probably has some more pressing obligations than having to thwart the occasional mad scientist. Fortunately, they haven't really needed her once in the last 20-or-so issue; so she feels pretty confident on what Black Bolts answer is going to be on that front.

The actual response she gets comes as a bit more of a surprise; as dozens of orcs Alpha Primitives erupt from the teleportation field in the Baxter Building, led by a hypnotized Lockjaw, who all forcefully abduct her and take her back to the rebuilt Attilan.

The rest of the FF are about as non-plussed by this as you might expect; Blackbolt is more of a guy who leads with actions instead of words (since he can't talk and all that), but "forceful abduction of his sister-in-law via mutant-apeman" isn't really his style; and they decide to take a rocket and crash it into the Himilayas to see what's going on.

Crystal doesn't have to wait until they land to find out what's going on, however, since she finds out REAL quick; Maximus The Mad has, apparently been real busy since his last appearance (where he was trying desperately to get ANYBODY to pay even the slightest bit of attention to him) and has once again managed to depose Blackbolt, affix Lockjaw with a mind-control collar, imprison Blackbolt, Karnak and Triton in a miniture version of the Negative Barrier that once sealed off the rest of Attilan, coated Medusas hair with a chemical that rendered her powerless (eh?) and also built himself a new suit!


I have absolutely no words to describe this.

Max what is even up with your hat situation?

MAX WHERE ARE YOUR FOREARMS?!?!

The more I look at this the more delighted I become.

Jack Kirby, you are a beautiful madman, and that you never got into high fashion is the TRUE heartbreak of comics.

ANYHOO, around the time that Crystal is being blinded by a fully sequined armored suit with a hat four times the size of the wearers head and armpit capes, the rest of the FF arrive in Attilan (greeted by the same flying guy that greeted them last time, which is how they know they arrived) and they also have a grim reminder of the past when they see the shattered pieces of the negative Barrier that still litter the landscape, which Reed takes credit for breaking.

And hey, Reed, Black Bolt did that himself; you were busing dealing with Dr. Doom. Not everything is your doing, Reed.

Anyway, once they're in the city itself, they fight some more Alpha Primitives, which they fair much better against now that they don't have to worry about Crystal or Lockjaw getting in the crossfire. So that's good. Unfortunately, they also run afoul of Maximus' SECOND greatestcreation, after that suit;

THE GIANT GORILLA ROBOT ZORR


Zorr is a very strong robot with a glue-gun for an arm that likes to brag about how strong he is and how smart Maximus is and BY GOD, I love him. We don't see how the fight is resolved, but since Reeds been glued to the ground, it's overpowered Ben and is entirely flame-proof, it doesn't look great for our heroes.

Instead we cut back to the Throne Room, where Crystal learns that besides being the single boldest fashion choice in the history of Marvel Comics, Maximus' suit is also completely weather proof, as her elemental powers have no effect on him whatsoever (elemental powers being represented by vague wavy lines here), and besides that AND THE GIANT MECHA GORILLA NAMED ZORR (in a normal issue, that would definitely be the thing I am most excited about), Maximus has also built a giant Hypno Ray Beam that will force everyone on the Earth to acknowledge him as the undisputed lord and master of the World!

The last time he had a gun like this it was to KILL every human on the planet so... kind of a step down in terms of menace, honestly.

Next Time: Fashion is the End Game
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Man, if Marvel hadn't decided to commit to an Inhumans show no one liked, they could have made this happen on screen. I envision Jemaine Clement as Maximus.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)


The question is "Shall Man Survive", and the answer is dependent entirely on whether it's worth saving at the cost of Maximus' wardrobe. My vote is "Well, we had a good run"

So we're opening up this issue answering the question of what happened to the actual Fantastic Four in the last issue; since their fate was left unknown, save that a big robot Gorilla was beating them up. As it turns out, it succeeded; and it locked our heroes (and Johnny) in a vault. Or rather, Maximus hypnotized them into thinking they were locked in a vault. And it's apparently a VERY convincing hypnotic suggestion, as Ben trying to clobber his way out of it produces a shockwave that knocks everyone down and everything.

I'm also not completely sure that hypnosis works if you're full aware you're being hypnotized, especially if you're imagining you're stuck in a box, but I've never been hypnotized by an Inhuman Mad Scientist, so MAYBE!

And speaking of Max, we cut to him in having a bath to wash his daily stink off and we see precisely how he managed to get that outfit on him; he has a team of hypnotized Inhumans on his beck and call to bathe him, and also work in tandem to get that suit around his body. Specifically the ones that can move most silently so as not to interrupt his Royal Chain of Thought.

I *love* Maximus.

Unfortunately there is tragedy to report; he's replaced his neck-snappingly huge helmet with a much more sedate crown. A crown with giant flaps on either side of his head and a special hair-window and also a face guard, but it's still a HUGE step down.

Still manages to be in my top ten Jack Kirby Hats, but not nearly as high up the list.

Anyway, since the guys on the books masthead have been... I guess beaten by their defeatist attitude, it's up to the OTHER superhero team that are co-starring in this story; Max made the pretty severe tactical error of locking the guy who proved himself capable of breaking Negative Barriers in a Negative Barrier cage, and Black Bolt manages to do to this one what he did to the last one and SCREAMS IT TO PIECES.

He's REAL careful about how loud to speak since he's got a bunch of people in there with him.

Fortunately, BB knows a thing or two about modulating his voice and he manages to not only break the shield without killing everyone in the room, he also manages to damage the hypnosis machine keeping Lockjaw and Medusa incapacitated. Which leads to the Alpha Primitive guards appearing in the prison in order to subdue the Royal Inhumans and also leads to a fight, of course.

And, more impressively, it leads to what I genuinely think is the ONLY instance in Stan Lees entire bibliography of there being an action scene with no dialogue. Nobody is yelling out-loud what they are doing as they do it! It's just Jack Kirby drawing a fight scene and assuming you can follow what is happening!

Just a page and a half of Kirby Bombast without Stan deciding he needed a thousand words for each of those picture.

Meanwhile, the FF manage to break out of their own prison thanks to Reed Richards' incredibly solipsism; by convincing himself that he's not actually in a prison he can simply walk out of it; which inspires the rest of the team to do the same thing.They have a quick rematch against Zorr the Robot Gorilla, but it's destroyed very quickly; turns out it wasn't nearly as powerful as they thought; it, too, was just using hypnosis, and they took it apart before it would use it's weird spiral thingy.

Kind of thinking Stan and Jack just went to see a hypnotist before writing this issue.

As for Max, he's made one of the classic supervillain blunders and decided to give a VERY protracted speech in front of the assorted rabble of Attilan of what he intends to do now that he's made himself Eternal Emperor of the Inhumans; that giant Hypno Ray he was bragging about last issue wasn't intended to let him conquer the Earth (though it will); it's designed to blast *the very stars above* making him undisputed Master Of The Entire Universe

Now THAT is the kind of villainy that warrants a hat larger than your entire torso!

Unfortunately for Mrs. Boltagons Second Favorite Son, he didn't weather-proof the Hypno Gun, which he learns when Crystal appears and blows the whole shebang to pieces with a blast of Elemental Energy (again; Vague Wavy Lines) and finds the Royal Family, and the Fantastic Four standing against him; also, as noted earlier, nobody in Attilan actually likes him they were just intimidated/hypnotized into serving him.

So he runs. He runs clean away.

He runs into a spaceship and leaves the Earth Presumably forever, but not really. And the FF shrug and decide to call that a win.

Oh, also, back in New York; Sue wonders what she should name her child; and decides to let Reed decide.

NEXT TIME: One Nation, Under Doom, Unassailable, With Tyranny and Benevolence for All
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)


I sincerely think that Stan knew Jack was getting ready to leave and just let him run wild and do whatever he wanted, as that last arc, and especially this one are PURE KIRBY and extremely fun. That or maybe Dr. Doom was just the missing ingredient to a good FF story; it's been a while since he showed up (not counting the time everyone thought Daredevil was him for some reason) and its possible that readers had forgotten that when you're looking for top-tier Marvel villains, THE NAME IS DOOM!

Kicking off this month with a man fleeing through the sewers of a small Balkan nation in the hills of Europe; whoever he is, he's desperate to leave, and warn the world about what the conditions of this country are actually like. Unfortunately, before he can reach a boat and leave, he's gunned down and escorted back behind the border by none other than the nations leader; Dr. Doom himself; who proceeds to give what is perhaps the single Dr. Doomiest speech ever written;

"Have I not told you how dearly I LOVE my subjects? Do you think I would allow even a single one to actually LEAVE this realm? The welfare of my people is ever closest to my heart. What a pity I am so often forced to save you form yourselves! That is why my robot army stands guard both night and day; Because NOBODY KNOWS WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU, EXCEPT YOUR SOVEREIGN; DOCTOR DOOM!

[...]

How Ungrateful are those who do not accept the rule of Doctor Doom; do I not give them shelter? Provide them with food? And all I ask is for total, blind obedience"

NOW THAT is Dr. Doom!

As for the FF< they're on their way back to New York after... not doing a heck of a lot to stop Maximus in the last issue (they startled him, I guess), courtesy of a completely bonkers flying gumball machine thing that Blackbolt gave them as a reward, when they're intercepted by jets, sent by SHIELD, and pilotted by none other than Nick Fury, and Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader "Dum Dum" Dugan!


I'm pretty sure this is the first time Dum Dum showed up in Fantastic Four at least; he's been a part of the Nick Fury stories since the get-go; he's Nicks best friend, one of SHIELDs best agents and he has a magnificent 'stashe and a bowler hat. He's been replaced by a LMD a few times and I think cloned, which is why a guy who served in World War 2 is still an active member of SHIELD; he actually died back in the 60s.

He is also the leader of SHIELDS Anti-Kaiju Forces, and appointed with taking down The Literal Actual Godzilla.

More pressing to this issue; Nick and Dum Dum were investigating Latveria, after one of the agents they sent in there went missing; but not before sending out a coded message warning of a new army Doom was constructing and a robot arm. And as soon as Nick presents the robot arm to the FF; it immediately springs to life; punches Dum Dum right in the face, crawls over to a gun that was laying on the desk and starts firing blindly at the FF until Johnny blasts it apart with his flame.

Dum Dum sweeps it up, presumably after recovering from his concussion.

Nick asks the FF for their help on the case; since SHIELD is too well known and big a force to infiltrate Latveria, but surely the four people Doom hates the most in all the world, and who he has repeatedly made global pronouncements mocking, and who are painted as infamous international terrorists to his people, can get in there without trouble.

Naturally; they can not.

Even the KGB agents posted at Latverias border annoyed at their own inability to figure out what's happening in Latveria call them idiots for attempting.

Naturally, since this is Dooms home country, and he's dealing with RIIIIICHARDS, the means by which he stops him is nothing so pedestrian as a security check-point, or a crazy handgun that shoots boulders or an army of robot guards; he has the road into Doomstadt remagnetized and it blows Reeds car to pieces. And THEN he sends out a robot army to beat them up while they're distracted by a magnetic street ripping their car to shreds.

Then he takes them to his dungeon where they're hypnotized into not having super powers (increasingly convinced that Stan and Jack just really like hypnotist shows) and then... they're treated to a nice fully catered vacation in lovely Doomstadt. Really; whole nine yards VIP treatment; breakfast in bed and a personal attendant to let them greet the day with xylophone music. Then the mayor of Doomstadt celebrates their newest citizens by holding a parade and declaring "A Fantastic Four Fiesta" celebration

Doom has heard the concept of living well being the best revenge, and put his own weird spin on it.

Reed isn't fooled by this for a second; he's aware that BOY does Doom hate him (he's not good at picking up most social cues, but that one is hard to miss), so them being treated nicely is clearly some kind of trick; and how forced everyones joviality is; he assumes they're being coerced; and decides to make a run for the border out of the town; only to be electrocuted to the ground, by a floating television bearing Dooms face;

"Very FOOLISH of you, new citizen. You've activated an automatic sentry device. This is your first, and last warning; NOBODY LEAVES LATVERIA. You will remain here, and be eternally happy. Or else you will die."

NEXT TIME: You Are Number Four
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
So help me God, there’s a deliberate detail in a Stan Lee written comic that escaped my notice until just now; over a day later.

Doom says of The old man who risked his life and was gunned down in the intro sequence that he was knocked out and will learn the folly of disobedience when he wakes up (which I neglected to mention since I assumed it was Stan writing around the CCA for depicting death on panel)

But later, that same old man is seen attending Doom when he’s delivering a monologue, with a horrified, vacant stare, and Doom remarks to him “You shouldn’t look so glum, my friend; I hate to think my citizens are unhappy”

Also; courtesy of the Marvel by the Month podcast, I know how this story ends and believe me; no matter what you think you know about a silver age Marvel, or Stan and Jack comics, you are going to be surprised by the ending
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Much like how Kommandi was basically Jack Kirby doing Planet of the Apes Fan Fiction, so too is Within This Tortured Land is him making The Prisoner fanfiction. It also feels kind of like a rough-draft for what he would wind up doing later with Fourth World. And, honestly, I'm not sure there's another comic out there that best sums up everything about Dooms character more than this one.

Guys, this is a REALLY GOOD arc, I'm not sure if I've gotten that across yet.

Picking things up in medias rez here, as we open with Reed still on the ground from the sentry drone, which is still delivering Dr. Dooms automated message;

"Never forget; this is a land of Law and Order. My Law. And MY Orders. Though we have been deadly foes in the past, I bear no grudge and hold no malice. You will be treated the same as all my other beloved subjects; you will obey every order and be punished for every infraction for the rest of your natural lives"

Doom is really channeling Darkseid through this story; his ultimate revenge on Reed and the FF is not to kill them but to simply put them under his complete control through intimidation, manipulation (and lots of hypnosis and drug-laced food) as he helpfully explains to his lab assistant; Hauptmann.

Hauptmann never really appears after this arc and a GIS didn't give me a lot to work off of for a portrait; but if you picture "Evil German Scientist" in your head, you're looking at him. And more over; you can tell he's evil because, as Doom pointedly states; he's an escaped nazi sympathizer who used to work directly under The Red Skull and Doom rescued him after failing the Skull one time too many (which would be one time, dude is not a great boss).

Hauptmann is nothing if not grateful that Doom rescued him from what would have definitely been an ignoble and unremarked upon death; and says that Doom is the rival of the Red Skulls; which inspires Doom to throw him hard against a wall screaming;

"RIVALS IT?!? RIVALS IT YOU SAY?!?! KNOW THIS, AND KNOW IT FOREVER. DOCTOR DOOM HAS NO RIVALS! In all the world, there are NONE who can match me. I. Have. No. Rivals."

And just like that, the word "Rival" just lost all meaning.

Anyway, Doom leads Hauptman to an outdoor gulag, just as some condemned prisoners manage to break free of the robot (?) guards and escape; fleeing into a nearby Kirby'd up tank (that still had its keys in the ignition and everything); and flee with the intent of breaking through the Latverian border and fleeing to safety. All of which delights Doom; he deliberately allowed the prisoners to escape and steal a tank because it gave him a perfect chance to test his new and improved Robot Army (which was the reason the FF were sent into Latveria in the first place). And, well... he got his moneys worth;

Even a massive tank, designed by Dooms genius being operated by people desperate to save their own lives don't amount to squat compared to even one of these improved Doombots; and it kills them immediately.

No writing around it for the sake of the CCA; no euphemisms; Doom has these men killed, and is content that his robots work.

And, having a good day, he leaves a scene of destruction that horrifies both a nazi and a robot; he heads off to have his portrait painted, by an artist whos village Doom intends to destroy if he doesn't do a good enough job.

Aforesaid village is also full of Latverian dissidents, so it's not completely out of character.


Vic is all over the place in this comic and I *love* it;

Doom, incidentally, promised to set the artist free if the portrait was to his liking, but thought the artist was mocking him for the way he depicted his scars, and threw him into a wall instead, saying he's lucky to be alive; as you may expect, we never see Dooms face during the entire sequence. And he decides to relax a bit by deploying his new Doombot army against that village he mentioned wanting to destroy.

As for the FF; well... they don't get a lot done in this issue; they're knocked out by the drugs that the mayor of Doomstadt laced their food with, and hypnotized into being timid and fearful of their new master, Victor Von Doom (and also being incapable of using the powers). But then they hear that Doom has just sent an army of robots to destroy an innocent village and that's enough to allow them to break free of at least the subservience aspect of their brainwashing

Also; back in New York; Sue goes house hunting and considers buying a haunted mansion that the realtor has no information on!

NEXT TIME: The Magnificent Seven! Except there's Fewer of them and they use a different adjective!
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Well, we're going light on plot and heavy on action as the Fantastic Four are but VICTIMS! A comic where the surprise twist is revealed on the cover.

And we open up where we left off, with the village the FF are imprisoned in about to be attacked and destroyed by the improved Super Doombots, and they immediately begin to rally the townspeople; telling them to gather whatever weapons they can find in their homes and prepare to defend themselves from the robots, while Doom appears on the TV screens built into the cobblestones in order to give a propaganda-heavy explanation for why, exactly, an army of jack-o-lantern headed robots are about to rip a Latverian town apart;

"ATTENTION CITIZENS! I, DOCTOR DOOM, GIVE YOU A ROYAL DECREE! My Robot Army, which I created for your protection, is temporarily out of control. If some of you were to perish due to this regrettable accident, let it be known that I, your sovereign, proclaims you Heroes of the Realm.

And to Reed, "I have granted you the supreme privilege of dying alongside my beloved subjects"

Reed, naturally, is quick to see through this incredibly weak damage control on Dooms part and assumes that Doom is simply trying to murder the FF and let the rest of the town be collateral damage.

Which simply proves what Doom has been saying about Reed all along; he is a witless dolt.

Doom wasn't lying; he actually has lost control of his Super Doombot army; he had a completely different plan to kill the FF and destroy the town as collateral damage; he had built the town on top of several PREPOSTEROUSLY MASSIVE kegs of dynamite.

You know... just in case some people he hates ever wind up visiting.

He reveals this plan by showing Hauptmann a perfect model of the town that he had in the middle of his living room (which Hauptmann acknowledged seeing a whole lot and having no idea why it was there in the middle of the floor); and even Hauptmann (literal nazi war criminal who worked with the flippin' Red Skull) is horrified at the level of atrocity Doom is planning here.

Point in fact, I think this is the first act of unmitigated evil Dooms ever perpetrated; everything else has been either him motivated to ruin Reeds life in particular (he deserves it), or trying to take over the world (not actually a crime).

Also, of course, Doom throws Hauptmann around a bunch, calls him an imbecile, and also chastises a guard for losing control of the unstoppable robots he built.

Back at the village, the FF act as the first line of defense against the robots; the hypnosis that robbed them of their powers has started to wear off so they're less powerless than Doom expected them to be, but still WELL below the level they're accustomed to; that along with the fact that Doom built some seriously good killer robots puts them on the defensive. The villagers don't fare any better, though FAR better than Reed expected them to (he was expecting pitchforks and clubs when he told them to gather weapons, they came back with military grade weapons and crazy-ass Kirby tech lasers).

Fortunately, after a few pages of Kirby drawing page after page of ROBOT RAMPAGE, Reed realizes that Doom wouldn't be so foolish as to design a killer robot he couldn't destroy even if he lost control of it; and figures that the automated sentries around Latveria that punish citizens to infractions probably work just as well on the Doombots, and tracks down a control unit for them; at which point the story immediately shifts from being a Magnificent Seven pastiche to Home Alone; as the FF and villagers lead the robots into the path of the OTHER weapons Doom designed until they all destroy each other.

At which point, Doom (who'd been watching the whole battle in a pair of binoculars, while he berates Hauptmann and eats breakfast) figures "Well... the robots were plan B anyway", and then proceeds to detonate the explosives under the town; instantly turning the entire village into a smoking crater.

...

Except for the FF, and all the villagers.

And out of the smoke of the explosion comes Sue Storm! Who had heard that her family was kidnapped by Dr. Doom, immediately booked it to Latveria, snuck in with her invisibility, and threw a protective forcefield over the townspeople to protect them from the explosion!

So now Doom has to contend with a Fantastic Five.

NEXT TIME: Well, the Dog wasn't THAT Shaggy
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

And our Latverian adventure comes to a close in The Power and the Pride, and I gotta say, Stans editorializing on the cover is right on the money; did NOT foresee how this story was going to end when it started.

Again, very little recap gets in the way of just charging head-first into another issue of just non-stop action; the FF have reunited and Sues back to doing Superhero stuff for the first time since... like... issue 60 (which was the similarly titled Dr. Doom story, The Peril and the Power), and, shucks, since everyones here why not have ALL THE FANTASTIC FOUR BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF EVERYONE ON DOOMS PAYROLL?!?!

So they do.

If you're a big fan of Jack Kirby action scene embellishments, like one punch knocking out a dozen people and someone throwing a building at a building, then you are IN LUCK, because three quarters of this issue is exactly that. Everyone on the (expanded) team gets plenty of opportunities to just go HOGWILD on Dooms guards (who I am now reasonably sure are Guys In Doofy Helmets and not robots, as I previously reported.

And Doom? Doom is DELIGHTED! He was feeling that just exploding his most hated enemy, along with a town that was bothering him, was a pretty anticlimactic way to settle their feud, and seeing that Reed Richards has broken into his home gives him a perfect chance to get cartoonishly theatrical with a ridiculous death trap, and gleefully runs off to prepare a good one; ordering his guards to not try TOO hard to stop the FF from their rampage through the castle; he needs time to set up something suitably preposterous.

Ultimately, the trap he settles on (which he reveals to Hauptmann, while backhanding him a bunch and calling him an ignorant jackanape) is to hold a feast in his guests honor, feed them well with only the finest cuts of meat and fruit, pleasant conversation, impress them with his collection of art…

And then murder them all by exploding their brains with a specialized piano that projects deadly Hyper Sound.

I think he’s happy he finally has an excuse to use that piano.

At this point the comic splits down three tracks; partly focusing on Ben, Reed and Johnny running through the rest of Dooms castle, knocking out guards, Sue and Crystal taking a short-cut through the castle and winding up right in the middle of Dooms "Nice meal and pleasant conversation" trap (Sue admits to him that no, they still haven't actually named their son) and Sue and Reeds soon-to-be neighbours are excited to soon have a celebrity couple in the neighborhood, even if they did just buy what is plainly a haunted house (from… nobody, so I’m not sure how that sale works, exactly) and then get scared off because the plainly haunted house is plainly haunted.

Well check in with that place more next issue.

And the fourth track involves Hauptmann and that painter from a couple of issues ago. The painter has been eager to try to escape Dooms Castle all issue, ever since Ben through an entire building through it, and Hauptmann is having none of it. He is, as I’ve said before (though the comic has not mentioned much) a straight up nazi war criminal, so despicable that he earned a position with flippin' Johann Schmidt.

And while, yes, Doom has spent this entire arc mocking him brutally, and throwing him into walls while calling him an insufferable dolt, and a fool, and simpering jackanape and... pretty much every other insult in the Dooms Big Book of Insults, Hauptmann *loves* him for it. Apparently negging works, but only if you're a straight up nazi.

Anyway, Hauptmann is scandalized that one of Dooms subjects would value his own life over that of the Science Wizard who's been hurling insults and abuse at everyone for the last three issues, and notes that thanks to his nazi training, he was able to identify the painter for being a SHIELD agent, thanks to his "cowardly, mongrel blood".

I legit forgot that there was a missing SHIELD agent involved in this story until this moment, BTW.

ANYWAY, Hauptmann figures that Doom will certainly be pleased if he keeps Latveria pure of any non-Latverian citizens, regardless of the cost and decides to set the Artist, and the entire art room (which includes countless one-of-a-kind priceless artifacts) on fire with a flame thrower.

UNFORTUNETALY FOR HIM, for fortunately for people who dislike nazis on general principle, Doom had CCTVs installed all throughout the castle, and he saw that whole exchange.

And hey, guess which social movement the son of a pair of Romani who is also the leader of an autonomous Balkan state doesn't like.

Turns out, it's nazis.

Well, Vic ain't having no more of this guy misinterpreting what, exactly, he was trying to communicate by throwing him around every room he's been in like a fascist pinball, and he ESPECIALLY doesn't want to risk damaging priceless international art displays, so he gets on his Hypersound Piano, and plays a little ditty designed to kill Hauptmann, as immediately and painfully as possible.

He then gets on the castle intercom and just... tells the Fantastic Four to go home; nothing about his weekend has gone the way he wanted it to, he was in a position where a friggin' nazi thought he was doing good, and the town outside his castle exploded, and a church was thrown through his living room. He's in no mood to deal with any more superhero shenanigans this month, and just call this one a tie, huh?

And the FF are okay with this because they're kind of wiped from beating up everyone in Dooms employ.

NEXT TIME: So What's Up With that House, Huh?
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
I had several paragraphs written up in a saved draft about how The Prisoner influenced Jack Kirby to not only conceive this story, but themes and elements of the Fourth World, but apparently this forum software doesn't save drafts and also you summarized it pretty well at the top of ish #85.

Suffice to say, Kirby would go on to pencil an unfinished comic adaptation of The Prisoner in the mid-70's.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Jack may have been disappointed that Stan veto’d a lot of the stories he was trying to write, but you can’t really say that anyone was ever able to actually stop him

ALSO:
I only just put together the fact that the Red Skulls real name is “John Smith”

That has to be intentional, right?
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

I, once again, have to give Stan credit for the ad-copy on the title here; given everything else in this issue, especially the cover, if you gave me a dozen guesses, I would NOT have predicted who the villain of this story actually is. Pity both Marvel Unlimited and the Marvel site I take the cover art from both waste no time in spoiling it. Jack also, once again, proves himself to be really ahead of the curce, as A House There Was is basically The Tommyknockers, except it came out 20 years earlier, and with fewer metaphors about alcoholism!

Anyway, no time spent decompressing after the last issue, or even explaining what the FF had been up to for the last four months; everyones back at the World Famous Baxter Building, where Alicia has been babysitting little <Unnamed Baby> since Sue hecked off to Europe to infiltrate Latveria and save her entire family from a science wizard.

In fact, Sue and Reed (and especially Reed) have spent so little time with <Unnamed Baby> since he was born that they're genuinely surprised that it is waving at them, as though it has any idea who they are. And Johnny, so overcome with emotion at finally seeing his nephew, decides to play with him a bit.

If you guessed that Johnny decides the best way to deal with an infant is by juggling fireballs over its crib, then you have been paying close attention to how Johnny Storms mind works, and can see why he shouldn't be trusted with childcare.

But this is all preamble, the REAL meat and potatoes of the story is that it's moving day for the Storm-Richards', as the payment has gone through on the Obviously Haunted House that Sue bought. Now, Reed may be the worlds smartest man and Sue is an astrophysicist and the youngest graduate of MIT, but this is the first time they've bought a house, so naturally some rookie mistakes have been made.

For example, they didn't have a home inspector in to check the wiring (there is none) or if there is any hazardous problems (constantly emits a noise that damages peoples retinas and causes headaches), or check with the previous owners to make sure the banking information was right (nobody knows who the previous owner is; the realtor just... found this house and decided to sell it). Also, they have no idea how flame proof it is, which is VERY important because they live with Johnny Storm, and advance knowledge of degree of flammability is the highest possible concern. Luckily, Johnny takes that burden away from them because he decides to TRY TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN FOR NO GOD DAMN REASON AT ALL just as they move in.

Luckily; it's the *good* kind of inflammable.

Also, on the plus side, it's fully furnished; with a lot of weird space-age future-chairs and technology and the like. So Reed feels right at home. And it also looks like the Legion of Doom headquarters, so that's pretty cool!

Backpedaling a bit, we find out more about that whole "low pitched hum that causes retina damage and headaches" because Ben just returned from an optometrist complaining of having sore eyes and difficulty seeing, which seemed to fade after leaving the house, and told the doctor not to tell the rest of the FF about it. And, since apparently all the team uses the same optometrist, who has a strict "Snitches get Stitches" policy, he knows that everyone has been having the same complaints, and not telling each other.

Also, everyone in the region *near* that house has been having headaches and temporary blindness, and also all visit that same doctor.

Who chalks it up to being a weird coincidence. To be fair, one of his regular patients is a giant rock man; so his stance on what constitutes "medically unusual" is a big skewed already.

Anyway, while helping Sue prepare their first meal in their weird evil house, Reed tries to install some wiring in the house... and winds up setting off some preposterous, Kirby-as-hell security system, involving lasers firing from every surface, explosions of flame and... a blender descending from the ceiling; all of which disappear as soon as Sue enters the room to find out what all the noise was.

And Reed decides not to tell his wife and the mother of their child about all the automated weaponry that just tried to kill him so as not to upset her, so she wouldn't be disappointed about the house she picked out.

That's honestly a big step up for Reed as far as being a caring partner is concerned.

Anyway the assembled FF continue to not mention the obvious deadly threats posed by the house while they enjoy their first meal in the new place, when suddenly the low humming builds in intensity to a deadly pitch; the FF are floored by crippling migraines and are rendered blind by whatever damage the strange machinery that powers the house has been causing. And this is when we see the special guest villain of the issue.

See if you can guess who it is, I'll wait.

[...]

Well? Who did you guess?

Did you think it was Kang, because of all the futuristic technology?

Did you guess The Super Skrull because of the otherworldly science?

Maybe it's setting up a Dr. Strange Crossover, and the FF just moved into Dormammus house?

Well, you're wrong; it's just The Mole Man.

They brought back the dirt guy.

Next Time: Mole infestations are no joke
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

The real Madness of the Moleman was the friends we made along the way.

Not a heck of a lot going on in this particular issue, unless you count five people with good-great super powers mercilessly beating the crap out of a short, nearsighted man armed with a stick. If that's your thing, then GOOD NEWS. It's not even a well choreographed fight, intentionally, since nobody involved with it can see at the moment.

Full credit to producing a surprisingly dramatic establishing shot, at least; especially on Marvel Unlimited where you're just looking at it one panel at a time; as we slowly zoom in on the Molemans weird Metal Mushroom House while Stan Lee narration gradually lets us know that there's a fight going on, and it's apparently been going on for a while; before we actually get to the meat and potatoes of the battle; Mole Man and the FF attempting to beat one another up.

Mole Man explains his master plan (not much of one; what everyone thought was a weird house was actually a giant blindness-laser he'd built, he's going to make everyone on the surface world go blind, and then take it over with Moleoids, and... I guess... collect a rent check every month from Reed Richards?) and he keeps monologuing his evil plan so that the rest of the FF, who is currently blind, knows exactly where he is to beat him up some more.

To the issues credit, it is a point that Moleman is USED to being nearly blind so he has a real advantage to fighting under these circumstances, but it's still five people beating him up none stop.

Eventually, Reed sacrifices himself to bash Molemans staff against the generator for the blindness laser, and gets a seemingly fatal shock for it, which inspires Sue to be the one to be the one to realize it's time for clobberin, and also break Molemans glasses, causing him to start stumbling around blindly, sobbing that it's not fair how everyone treats him.

This is SUPPOSED to make Moleman look like a sniveling coward the moment things stop going his way but... umm... it really just makes our heroes look like a bunch of terrible bullies.

And then Johnny starts yelling at him that Molemans entire deal of wanting revenge on the surface world doesn't make a lick of sense because nobody told him to travel to Subterranea, that was his own choice. And furthermore, Ben is a big rock man and Alicia is twice as blind as he is on his best day, and you don't hear them complaining (he's half right, but I also assume Johnny never listens to what anyone else has to say) and Moleman returns underground thoroughly chastised.

Then Ben gives Reed some CPR and alls well that ends well.

EXCEPT!!!

Coming from around the moon, and mercilessly mocking the primitive Apollo Program space rockets comes an alien space-craft; straight from the Fifth Quadrant of the Andromeda Galaxy! After more than 50 issues of adhering to the emperors "Stop Invading Earth" edict, The Skrulls are back!

UH OH!

NEXT TIME: Mean Green Mothers From Outer Space
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Whuff, been a while since we had a comic quite as rich in incident as A Skrull Takes a Slave. Which also feels like the title of a Little Golden Reader book.

Plots jumping all over the place this month, but first and foremost, we have the fallout of the last couple of issues; with the FF sitting around the kitchen of their recently liberated Doomsday-Device/new house, tending to their wounds; and Reed is (rightly) embrassed at how a fight they just had against The Moleman

Who, incidentally, is in the next room, tied to a chair; still yelling and swearing revenge. Also; without his glasses he looks so much like Cotton Hill it's freakin' me out. Keep expecting him to brag about killing fitty men, and calling Sue "Reeds Wife".

Anyway, while Sue is applying bandages to her recently temporarily deceased husband, and Reed is bemoaning the cruel irony that they can't arrest Mole Man because "a man may be arrested for a parking violation, but there's no law against trying to take over the world!" (a soundbite Stan was inordinately fond of, and which I love him for).

Ben and Johnny, meanwhile, have taken it upon themselves to personally demolish the house since, whether or not Mole Man is presently tied to a chair in a guest-room, it's still a doomsday device, so it's probably best to be *real* thorough with shutting it off. And Ben decides to go ask Mole Man if there's any traps in the building before Johnny sets one off and nearly kills everyone.

For the record; there's at least one, because, yes, Johnny set one off and nearly killed everyone in doing so.

Also, for the record, Ben decides to interrogate Mole Man, by untying him, and then picking him up and shaking him like he was trying to get the last bit of ketchup out of him. This, of course, was the Mole Mans secret plan all along; to be untied and shaken up real bad so he could slip away and use his advance knowledge of the houses layout to escape back to Subterranea, and set the building to self destruct; and the FF quickly evacuate.

Lucky for them they didn't have all their furniture moved over from the Baxter Building. The mortgage is going to be a mess, though.

Anyway, that's the end of the weird, weird saga of "That One Time Sue Bought a House From Nobody and Everyone Nearly Died"; now let's get back to the story that's actually on the cover of the issue!

As we ALSO saw last issue, the Skrulls have returned to Earth, less intent of conquering it this time (the Skrull Emperor put a stop to that waaaaaaaaay back in issue #40, as a reward for the FF killing the treacherous leader of the Invasion Force) and more interested in taking a human slave to serve in the SKRULL GAMES.

Wild coincidence that I cover a comic about the Space Olympics on the same day the Real Olympics start.

Anyway, this Skrull (who is called The Slaver, but is otherwise indistinguishable from any other Skrull, except that he has Kirby Krackle for eyes, and I don't think he ever shows up again after this story) spends most of his time explaining what a Skrull is for any of the kids reading this comic, but did not recall what happened FIFTY ISSUES AGO; mainly that they're aliens who all loooooove shape-shifting; and he also has some good ol' Stan Lee over-narration as he explains literally everything he's doing, regardless of how obvious it is. Also, in case there was any suspense over who he was hunting down to enslave in the Skrull Games... well... it's Ben. He wants it to be very clear that it's Ben he's looking for.

He's looking for the being men call... THE THING, and his real name is Ben Grimm, and this guy? This guy is looking for Ben Grimm.

Aunt Pentunias Ever-Lovin' Blue Eyed Nephew is, in fact, the very same guy this Skrull is after.

The Skrull finds an old man wandering through the woods and kills him knocks him unconscious with a painless nerve tap, and assumes his form, in order to hitchike his way into New York city and track down the Idol o'Millions.

And once he gets to New York, he steals a car by shape-shifting his fingers into a car-key and stealing one. Which is... pretty rad.

The Skrull easily finds Ben, as he went ahead of the rest of the team, in order to spend some time with Alicia, but also got distracted when people start asking him for his autograph (he joked about signing Dustin Hoffmans name to it, which is how I learned that Dustin Hoffman was active in the 1960s), and the Skrull then impersonates Reed, in order to lure Ben back outside the city saying there's an alien craft that's landed and he's needed there.

And the Skrulls may be shape-shifting spies of an expansionist intergalactic empire, but they certainly aren't liars; the Skrull leads Ben back to his own spaceship, blasts him unconscious with a ludicrously huge concealed weapon, and then loads him into his ship and takes off back to Skrullos.

THEY DUNN STOLE A BEN!!!

NEXT TIME: The Skrullympics
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Hoow buddy, buckle up kids; things are about to get *nuts*. We've seen Jack Kirby do his own riff on The Prisoner, and The Magnificent Seven (and also Tommyknockers, but the similarities were probably a coincidence), and now it's his turn to cover that one episode of Star Trek with the gangsters.

In fact, that particular piece of inspiration is so jarring, compared to the story we've been lead to assume we'd be getting, that the narration box at the stories into is Stan saying "Look... you didn't miss an issue or anything, we're going somewhere with this" when the first page splash panel is a bunch of gangsters, lead by Boss Barker (definitely a Jack Kirby name) standing around demanding to know when their next shipment of goods is about to show up.

I mean, he says it Stan Lee-ier than that, but that's the gist of it.

Anyway, these Prohibition-era Gangsters, as it happens, and against all odds considering how the last issue ended, are, in fact, the very people that the Skrull Slavemaster was abducting Ben for in the previous issue; as he's their number one pick for someone who can beat rival gangster Lippy Lou (absolutely a Jack Kirby name) in the upcoming Skrull Games boxing match; and they certainly want to win as the prize for defeating Lippy Lous contender (a robot named Torgo) is no less than Ten Perfect Power Crystals!

From context clues, this is apparently quite a fortune.

Not long after that (after the Skrull Slave Master, and also a cut-away to Earth which exist to recap the previous issues story about Ben being kidnapped and sold to an alien gladiator ring) Ben arrives on the Planet of KRAL; on the outermost corner of the Skrull Empire; bound in chains and an entire concrete block.

Several concrete blocks, in fact; Ben doesn't like being on a leash very much and reacts angrily. ANd he, like the readers (and especially the readers who hadn't also seen that one episode of Star Trek, is understandably confused to see the whole alien worlds civilization is stuck in Prohibition-era Chicago.

And also apparently the Rhine, since the frickin' Red Baron is also around.

And since the driver of the... err... old timey prison bus he's loaded on to has nothing better to do with his time, while weathering an attack from the red baron, he explains to Ben and the other prisoners exactly why this planet on the spiral arm of the Andromeda Galaxy is also 1920s Chicago; and as it turns out, it's slightly more bonkers than the explanation for that Star Trek episode with this exact premise;

As it turns out, the Skrulls were planning their takeover of Earth a LONG while before the events of FF#2 and were sending scouting parties down to the planet (specifically Illinois, I guess) back in the 1920s, and by shocking coincidence/the fact that a bunch of shape-shifting alien spies are apparently really bad at stealth, their landing craft was discovered by none-other than the mob hitman Machine Gun Martin (another contender for Most Jack Kirby name), who snuck on board and was on hand when it returned to the Skrull Outpost on planet Kral. For some reason, everyone on the planet was completely enamored with his stories of what life is like in the mob during the 1920s (or possibly completely infatuated by James Cagney movies of the 40s, which would be my No Prize explanation to make the time-line fit better), and decided to herald him as a holy prophet and immediately restructured their entire culture around his teachings.

Al Ewing would basically retell this exact story decades later in U.S.Avengers, with Skrulls who became obsessed with Archie comics instead. Skrulls... really like mid-century Americana, I guess.

While telling this story, the prison bus arrives at the Training Center where Ben is to be interred and prepared for his gladitorial deathmatch against TORGO the robot, being coached by... Edward G. Robinson.

Like... straight up Edward G Robinson.

Chief Wiggum.

And Outer Space Edward G Robinson establishes precisely the kind of challenge Ben has in store for him when he has one of the weaker inmates of the Battle Prison fight him, and it absolutely wrecks him before he winds up confronting TORGO (also in the coliseum), who just casually mentions that his only purpose in existence is to end Ben Grimms life.

Ben is having a very stressful day.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Reed is looking through a Telescope while everyone else is looking for the missing Ben in the city and figures it must be the Skrulls, if for no other reason than the fact that they haven't dealt with Skrulls in a while.

NEXT TIME: Llllllet's get Read to SKRULLMBLEEE
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

The most bonkers FF story in a while continues with the erroneously named Ben Grimm; KILLER. Also, another great cover image; Jacks really been hitting a series-high for covers not seen for a while.

ANYHOW not a whole lot to actually happen in this particular issue since the last one did all the heavy lifting for establishing that there's a Skrull Gangster Planet that was founded by an escaped Mobster who snuck aboard a Skrull scout ship and was treated as a holy prophet on the planet Kral, which then decided to base their entire civilization on the teachings of Al Capone (you know, that old saw), so this one mainly focuses on what all that means for Ben;

Specifically, it means that he's been chosen to be a gladiator-slave, forced to fight to the death every day for the rest of his natural life (which will be very short if rival mob boss Lippy Lou has anything to say to it, as its his own slave gladiator Torgo the Machine-Man Ben will be fighting, for the presumably enormous prize of Ten Power Gems).

Also, Gladiator Slave Pits kind of rub against the gangster planet aesthetic; which just supports my no-prize explanation that Machine Gun Martin just really likes Gamgster and Gladiator movies, and he wasn’t an actual mobster)

Most of the issue is spent with Ben training for The Great Skrull Games, which, naturally, takes the form of a boss rush of Weird Jack Kirby Monsters; TAXTOR from the Fighting Jungle Planet, a Skrull-Bred MAGNOMAN, a RHINO-DRAGON, The Primatoid and the... Cat-Man (kind of ran out of steam with the names at the end there).

And watching all of the beatings Ben is receiving and administering, and with no small amount of regret, is Torgo. And Torgo, despite being an unstoppable robot man who wins fights to the death as easily as a fish swims really... does not like to fight to the death. Point in fact, he’s a pacifist by nature. Problem being that when your a gladiator slave, you don’t really get to pick your jobs.

That’s just one of the flaws with that career path.

Torgo feels a kinship with Ben, and regrets the fact that he’s about to beat him entirely to death, and when Ben suggests they just go ahead and lead a slave revolt (Jacks getting tired of making a Gangster movie and wants to do Ben Hurr now, I suppose) but Torgo can’t really justify that.

The Skrull Gangsters, you see, have a contingency plan for that kind of outside the box thinking; specifically they have a gigantic cannon pointed at each slaves home world and if anyone decides to engage in any kind of counter-culture behaviour, like not fighting to the death or rebelling against brain-blasting space gangsters, they’ll knock their planet clean out of the night sky. Which we all learn just as the Skrull Games begin!

And begin with the main event as Ben and Torgo face off for their big grudge match!

Meanwhile, on Earth, Reed doesn’t want to take Sue on the rescue mission to Kral, because he doesn’t want to orphan his nameless baby, but Sue figures she can foist the kid on Alicias shoulders and heck off to space for a fun science-adventure.

Im honestly curious if that kid is going to be named before Jack leaves the book… he’s nearly a year old now and they still haven’t picked one.

NEXT TIME: You Dirty Rat, You’re Gonna Be Entertained, see?
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Oh; also the guy who looked and acted exactly like Edward G Robinson is named “Napoleon Robberman”, which is an amazing name
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

This completely bugnuts story comes to a close in THE ARENA OF DEATH! Or At The Mercy of Torgo, depending on whether you trust the cover or the interior splash-page when it comes to saying that the title of the issue is.

Not counting a scene with Ben explaining the plot again, as he watches two alien gladiators kill one another, for the sake of the kids who may have forgotten what happened since last month, the comic opens in deep space, with the FF launching their rescue mission to save Ben from the Skrulls. And while searching *an entire galaxy* with no leads save that you're pretty sure you know what species kidnapped your friend may SEEM like it's a completely hopeless crusade, well... it would be for anyone but Reed Richards;

Turns out that the exhaust given off by Skrull ships turns SUPER bright when exposed to whatever it is that produces Johnnys flames (a plot point which has never come up before and I am reasonably sure has never come up again), so they know exactly where Ben went. ANd, in fact, they also find the Skrull Slave Master who kidnapped Ben in the first place, and force him to explain the plot to THEM for a change. Stan and Jack, uncharacteristically, decide to cut away from the plot being repeated again; that kind of thing would get in the way of a non-stop barrage of Jack Kirby fighting.

Also; despite there being a whole thing about Sue giving NAMELESS BABY to Alicia so she could join in on a fun science-adventure; she ain't around in this one. I sincerely have no idea if it's because Jack forgot Sue was supposed to come along, or because he already drew this issue and didn't know that Stan wrote in that she was coming.

Anyway, we ain't here to talk about the mysterious absence of my second favorite member of the team, we're here to watch my actual favorite SMACK AROUND A ROBO-MAN!

Twelve out of 20 pages of this comic are dedicated to the BEN vs. TORGO prize fight which... honestly... ain't Jacks best work. I mean, it's good; got some real nice composition and you really get the sense that Ben really misjudged how powerful Torgo actually is, but the bar is a bit higher than this in general.

The bigger issue as far as the Skrull Gangsters are concerned is that they're fighting game purists, and can not abide that the final battle for the Skrull Games is being fought with the items turned on; Lippy Lou and Boss Barker alike call foul when their respective champions are beaten by the randomly spawning weapons.

Right around the point where Ben and Torgo are dueling with those cinder-block/bottle openers on the cover (and debating whether or not they should risk their respective home worlds safety in order to lead a slave revolt because this planet *suuuuuuucks*) we find that a new gang has muscled in on Lippy and Boss Barkers turf; and are very quickly taking over both mob bosses turf; and who quickly decide to reveal themselves as Reed Crystal and Johnny, because we're running short on pages and this story has to be wrapped up, drama be-danged.

While THAT'S happening, Ben is nearly killed by Torgo, who can't bring himself to actually deliver a finishing blow even at the risk of the destruction of his home.

Fortunately; this is also when the remaining FF make their way into the Arena of Death, and Crystal immediately destroys the Skrulls Sonic Disruptor Cannon (while most of her superheroing is off-page, Crystal is *extremely* good at destroying doomsday devices) while evacuating Ben back into their rescue ship and taking him back to Earth.

As for Torgo, and the other Gladiator Slaves... well... as it turns out when you abduct the most dangerous beings from a hundred worlds and put them all in the same place, and then torture and abuse them endlessly, things go *real bad* for you when you lose your only means to control them; and Torgo immediately leads a world-wide revolt.

Which we don't see the end of, I know that the Gangster Skrulls of Planet Krall EVENTUALLY come back, however.

NEXT TIME: It was Agatha All Along
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
I have to wonder if this arc inspired Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7, with all the Skrull Gangster goofiness boiled out and focusing purely on the fight.

 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
A comic so great it was just wholesale used as the basis for the very best Dial M for Monkey, including the big speech at the end.

Also, who would be a better actor to play the Champion of the Universe: the Rock or Terry Crews?
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

The Frightful Four returning barely cracks the top five noteworthy things about The Return of the Frightful Four. Also, Fantastic Four Annual #7 SHOULD be covered in this space, but it was entirely reprints, so we can skip that.

First and foremost, as the introductory splash page is excited to tell us; after ONE GREGORIAN CALENDER YEAR, Reed and Sue have FINALLY decided to knuckle down and figure out what to call their child, besides "The Baby"

<drumroll>

His name is Franklin Benjamin Richards!

So named for Sue and Johnnys dad (who you may remember for when he was exploded by a Skrull way back when, and also for deciding that "The Invincible Man" was a good supervillain name when he was already literally named Dr. Storm) and also for Aunt Petunias Favorite Ever-Lovin' Nephew.

Surprisingly, science-minded Reed DID NOT name his son after the penny saving genius who invented lightning.

Ben is so emotional to learn he's got a namesake that he immediately stops sulking that he's a big rock man before he could even get started doing it!

Moreover, Reed and Sue announce that they've found the perfect babysitter for the little guy, since it's rude to impose on Alicia so often and they live in constant danger from... like... everyone in space, and SO MANY evil geniuses.

Evil Geniuses like BENTLEY WHITTMAN, who you may know better as THE WINGLESS WIZARD! Or just "The Wizard" since it's not like those guys were known for having wings.

I have no idea how The Wizard managed to get live footage of Reed and Sue announcing they've named their baby and are taking off to see their new caregiver, but he does. Something that requires far less of an explanation but receives one anyway, is why The Sandman is also around (Sandman was previously turned into glass and shot into space in an issue of The Incredible Hulk, Wizard fixed him up, because that's what Crime Pals do), furthermore, when he heard that Wizard and Sandman were hanging out together again, Paste Pot Pete also showed up. And also Medusa! Which is pretty out of character for her, really, but there's still a real lack of Female Villains in the Marvel Universe at the moment (I think we're up to... two?), so hopefully nobody stops to think about this too long or hard.

Also, the Wizards plan here seems to be to steal and possibly kill a baby so, which Sandman questions the ethics of, but nobody else seems to have much issue with.

ANYHOO, as noted, Reed and Sue have decided to drop Franklin off with his babysitter, an old lady who is used to dealing with unusual charges like this, who lives outside of New York on top of Whisper Hill, in a Spooky Haunted Mansion;


AGATHA HARKNESS!

Kinda had to struggle to find an image that wasn't a spoiler, though I can't imagine anyone reading this thread isn't already aware of the nature of that spoiler. Don't do a Google Image Search if you aren't caught up on recent MCU properties is all I'll say!

Ben and Johnny are kind of concerned about the sheer lack of baby-proofing in Harknesses home; sure, some of that could be because the standards of what was acceptable for child-rearing in the 1960s was pretty different from the standards of today (nobody thought to cover up electrical outlets back then) but some of it was still kind of eyebrow raising even back then; like all the occult instruments, open flames or satanic effigies all over the place.

I seriously think Jack drew this issue in order to stick it to literally every rule the Comics Code has; dudes 6 months to go at Marvel and has no fr*cks left to give.

Just straight up "Ben Grimm admires a painting of a Black Mass painted by a literal Witch while a Scientist is intending to murder a baby because he's a jerk".

Anyhoo, while everyone is admiring Agathas spirited décor while foisting their baby off on her, she informs everyone that it's too late for them to return to New York, so they should spend the night in her haunted house, which they accept without thinking too hard about, because they've forgotten what happened literally every other time they've spent any time in any haunted houses.

Meanwhile, the Frightful Four have also arrived at the House on Whisper Hill and have decided to repeat what was their most successful plan against the FF; wait until everyone is asleep and then beat the crap out of them! And once again, it works pretty darn well; the Wizard slaps a pair of Gravity discs on Ben, keeping him immobilized; Sandman douses Johnny with enough Sand to extinguish his flames, and Paste Pot Pete... err... glues Reeds door shut.

Pete had to do something to feel helpful.

And as for Medusa, well, she was counting on the fact that the rest of the Frightful Four probably doesn't pay any kind of attention to the way her life's been going and would likely not realize she isn't actually evil and never has been; and was waiting for an opportunity to betray them and help the FF. Unfortunately, her timing STINKS, and she only did this when the FF were already incapacitated, and "controlling your hair" isn't really the best super-power to have on hand when you're in a 3-on-1 supervillain fight.

And while I'd normally complain about that, especially since being Queen of the Inhumans means she'd be WELL EQUIPPED to deal with a team with Paste Pot Pete in it, and Medusa has already repeatedly made chumps out of the Frightful Four, I'mma give it a pass because this ain't Medusas story.

As it turns out, there's an extremely good reason Reed and Sue decided to let Agatha Harkness be the caregiver for their firstborn.

Agatha Harkness isn't an old lady who lives in a haunted house; she's one of the preeminent masters of the Occult in the Marvel Universe; she isn't just a Witch; she's everyone in The Craft, Bayonetta, The Wicked Witch of the West and Maleficient combined.

And BOY OH BOY, does she not take kindly to a bunch of violent criminals who broke into her home, attacked her guests and attempted to kill a literal child she's sworn to protect.

And Jack Kirby just goes full on EC comics on the Frightful Four; Wizard is so freaked out by Agathas familiar (a black cat named Ebony) when it transforms into a demonic form that he flings himself recklessly out of the house and knocks himself nonconscious, Sandman loses control of his molecules and turns himself to stone, and Pete panics and runs off, directly into the literal Satan and scares himself so badly he passes out.

When the FF recover their their wounds/gluings, they find the unconscious Frightful Four scattered around the house, with a completely unperturbed Agatha idly sipping tea in Franklins room, Ben thinks its surprising that the Frightful Four were beaten so easily when the only one to oppose them was a little old lady, and then notices that she had a book of witchcraft open on the bedside table and quickly puts two and two together and decides NOT to press the issue.

NEXT TIME: It's the Monocles Time to Shine!
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
I had to look twice to make sure Reed wasn't grabbing a handful of the Wizard's derrière on the cover.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

I hope you're deeply invested in Stan Lee doing his level best to make a taut political thriller without ever mentioning any countries or crises. Or even make any up. This may also be the least engaging FF story in the entire Lee/Kirby run. Anyway, the story takes place twenty seconds to midnight and Tomorrow-- WORLD WAR THREE

We're kicking off things this month with an introduction to our special guest villain (who, googling has informed me actually DOES have a second appearance, against all odds, and an "Energy Projection" stat of 3!); The Monocle!


The Monocle, as you might assuming from his non-noteworthy completely non-descript appearance, is a spy for... some country and/or organization (he never refers to his superiors as anything except "Those whom I serve") and is tasked with riling up a UN peace summit so badly it causes a nuclear war.

And to that end he has a secret weapon! Which, despite his name, is not his big, obvious monocle, but is, instead his camera, which is in fact, "Neutrak Laser", and since this is the first time he's had to disrupt a peace summit or use a Neutrak Laser, he decides to test it by killing the Fantastic Four!

People with better facial hair than you have tried, my man.

Anyway, the FF happen to be nearby because they're acting as the superhero side of protection for this peace summit (whatever it's for; the only hints we ever get is that "there are flare-ups in the middle-east") and Ben is really really bored already and Johnny and Crystal ain't around. Also, since the implication is that the world is on the brink of all out nuclear war for some reason, and the results of this summit going well is all that will save us, you'd think they'd have more than three super people on hand; this really feels like it'd be more of Captain America or Nick Furys deal, y'know?

Anyhow; The Monocles tests with the Neutrak Ray are a resounding success when he manages to shoot the Fantasticar out of the sky with it (Reed and Sue crash in the Hudson River, unharmed, Bens distracted, because Monocle blew up a building to distract him.

The Neutrak Ray, for the record, works by destroying Neutrons, but leaving all the other junk in an atom intact; I'm pretty sure that violates some of the better laws of physics, but I must be mistaken because it works perfectly every time.

Anyway, while all that's happening and there's a World Crisis; Johnny and Crystal are having a RELATIONSHIP CRISIS; turns out, I guess, that when Medusa popped up last issue it was less to help the FF against the Frightful Four if necessary, and more that Blackbolt decided that since Sue is no longer out on Maternity Leave, and they don't want to change the title of the comic to The Fantastic Five, Crystal has to go back to Attilan.

Johnny is understandably distraught (if nothing else, without Crystal make-outs, how is he going to fill his free time), but Medusa is the queen of an entire superhuman empire so her opinions carry more weight.

Right around then, Reed and Sue come back to the World Famous Baxter Building in order to change into some dryer clothes and figure out why the Fantasicar suddenly had all its Neutrons removed; which leads to this exchange; easily the highlight of this issue;

"In your HAT mister! Let the world worry about itself for a change! It's time I started looking out for number one!"
"That's enough, Johnny! This city is like a tinderbox right now -- and there's a killer on the loose with a strange deadly weapon! So do you want to tackle him, or cry in your cheerie-oats?"

And this pep-talk about crying in Cheerie-Oats (them and a plate of Wheat-Cakes are part of a balanced breakfast) is all Johnny needs to stop feeling sorry about the fact that his girlfriend went back home to visit her family, and he takes off to try to find someone with a weapon disguised as a camera.

Takes him a long time to realize that a strange new weapon, a loosed assassin and a major political crisis may be related to one another but, to Johnnys Credit, he doesn't fly head first into anything and knock himself out. Which makes this Johnny Storms single greatest showing in the whole of Marvel Comics.

Meanwhile, the Peace Summit is about to become a WAR summit, as nobody has thought it worth investigating the extremely conspicuous man who keeps taking pictures of random explosions and muttering under his breath that "Those He Serves" will make him a king (He's basically the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight), and The Monocle is about to explode the every mother-cussing person at the summit with his Neutrak Beam.

LUCKILY, Neutrak Beams are obsolete old fashioned technology for Reed, who whipped up an Anti-Neutrak Ray Ray pretty quick and umm... shot... the laser... with another... laser.

Monocle realizes the jig is up, and tries to escape with jet shoes, but is immediately apprehended by the FF who hand him over the cops.

Well, at least the issue wasn't a two-parter.

Next Time: Ugh, This Guy Again
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

Having read 95% of Stan and Jacks FF output at this point, and also a good chunk of the 2010-present FF, I have to say, my least favourite villain is probably The Mad Thinker. Even including the one and done villains who barely got named. I just… really do not like that guy. And that’s with a Jack Kirby who was not just running out the clock until he could quit Marvel.

All of which is to say that I went into The Androids of Death with low expectations and still managed to be let down.

Nice cover, I’ll say that, and at least it’s not a multi-parter.

We open with Ben opening up a prank care package from the Yancy Street Gang (a fitness guide to help him tone his muscles; the Yancy Street Gang is feeling about as fired up as Jack at this point), at which point Johnny walks in, speaking very stiffly and formally, and saying things like how all is proceeding exactly as calculated, and timing out his movements to the second.

Unsurprisingly this Johnny is, in fact, a robot duplicate built by the Mad Thinker in order to trick Ben and knock him out. The Thinker also built robot duplicates of the rest of the FF, but they really don't enter in to the story very much. And, as per most of the Mad Thinkers plots, it works perfectly because this is the early part of the story so things go badly for our heroes.

Also, Johnny was knocked out earlier, off panel, presumably also by his own duplicate and does not appear in this story. I can only assume that he flew head first into something or tried to set something on fire that he shouldn't have. Most likely both.

Anyway, further uptown, Sue and Reed have gone shopping. Or at least Sue has gone shopping at the "Young Marrieds Boutique" while Reed busys himself trying to park the car; which leaves them vulnerable to their own duplicates; Mecha Reed ambushes Fleshy Reed as he finally finds a spot to park the car (which appears to be nowhere near the shopping district, but from what TV has lead me to believe about traffic in New York City, this is not unusual) while Sues duplicate... umm... chloroforms her, a major celebrity, in the middle of a crowded mall and nobody reacts to this at all.

Unlike the other duplicates, the robot Sue doesn't appear to have any super-powers which would have justified the lack of reactions, so that makes this whole scene even weirder.

Long and short is that the FF have been thoroughly knocked out and they each bring their respective doppelgangers to the Baxter Building, where the Thinker is sitting in an easy chair; as it turns out he secretly broke into the Baxter Building and had a private elevator installed while the FF were off in Europe fighting Doom; in order to better facilitate this dramatic appearance.

The Thinker, incidentally, had his motives change again and now he just wants to prove that he's smarter than Reed was rather than wanting to steal his things because of his complete lack of creativity, which, outside of his Awesome Android, was the other only thing I thought was interesting about the Thinker.

Anyway, as usual, for all his obsessive detail oriented thinking, the Thinker missed one crucial detail which causes his entire plan to fall apart; and that is that, despite being a nerd, Reed is pretty good at super-hero fights at this point and managed to beat the crap out of his robot copy when it attacked him and it was Reed, not the robot, who returned to the Baxter Building.

So naturally, this leads to Reed reviving Ben and the two of them beating the trash out of their entire simulated family unit (neither Ben nor Reed can bring themselves to smack Sue, even if it's an evil robot that looks like her, so Ben just punches a wall hard enough to knock her down with the shockwave, which I guess is better?) and in the scuffle, Reed finds the Thinkers secret elevator to his hideout (which I assume was in the basement?), where the unconscious Johnny and Sue were being kept in sleepy-pods.

And Reed wakes up Sue by smooching her awww.

Johnny is still asleep when the issue ends.

Story Over; No moral

NEXT TIME: The Shape of Water
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)

I’ll be perfectly honest, I was apprehensive about this last chunk of Kirbys FF books; they’re almost entirely single issue stories, and I know that Jack was (justifiably) fed up with Marvel in general, and Stan in particular and was content to phone things in as much as he was able to for his last few months. Also, the last couple of issues were among the weakest of the entire Lee/Kirby run.

So imagine my delight that The Monster from the Lost Lagoon, was a return to the completely bugnuts early issues. If not for Ben being So prominent, you could have told me this was one of the Monster books from the 50s and I wouldn’t have thought anything of it.

We open in scenic “Somewhere off the coast of the Lost Lagoon” (no explanation for that name is forthcoming), where the coast guard has asked the FF (sans Sue) to help investigate the mysterious destruction of several boats in the area. They mainly asked the FF because they were on a vacation in the area anyway, and Reed is a consummate workaholic who isn’t going to turn down a chance to look for a sea monster.

The FF briefly wonder if the supposed sea monster could be connected with one of the other water-guys they know, and decide it isn't likely; randomly sinking boats is entirely too subtle for Namor or Attuma, and Triton doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. And their consulting Marvel Trading Cards for other aquatic characters that could potentially be responsible for the attacks is cut short when a MASSIVE orca attacks their submarine and nearly sinks it. I mean, Orcas are really big in general, but this thing was the size of an apartment building.

It's so unusually large that they don't stop to wonder too long about the man-shaped creature riding it like a surf-board.

They acknowledge it, but are more concerned about the fact that their sub is capsizing. So much so that they decide to abandon searching for sea monsters then and there; they are on vacation and won't be able to relax properly if giant whales keep attacking them. And, as the FF head back to the beach in order for Johnny to show off that he has super powers in order to impress all the bikini-girls (and also show that Franklins had his first words, and they're "Flame ON!"... which goes to show how often Johnny must be setting an infants room on fire), we cut back to that mysterious man-shaped monster, wake-boarding on the back of a killer whale.

And, of course, this man-shaped monster (as Reed keeps referring to it) is, in fact, the guy who's been sinking boats! And by drinking a chemical from a weird box of Kirby Tech he transforms into... SOME GUY IN SWIMMING TRUNKS!

Who apparently has a day job working at Seaworld The Oceanarium as part of the Whale and Dolphin show!

And boy, if you thought that Seaworld has a lousy track-record with the treatment of whales, you haven't seen this place;

When The Guy in Swim Trunks, let's call him Gil, sees that the Fantastic Four are in the audience (and genuinely impressed at the skill Gil has riding dolphins and whales), he assumes that they've identified him from when he tried to murder them with a whale a few hours ago and decides to *resume* killing them with whales right now; by picking one up and throwing it at Reed.

In the middle of the show!

WHICH DOES NOT INTERUPT THE SHOW.


This also includes what is possibly my favorite Reed/Ben conversations in the whole run of the book so far;

"I've seen dolphin acts before, but never performed as magnificently as he is doing this one."
"Sheesh, it doesn't take much to impress you."
"Can you do that Ben?"
"...Can HE pick up an elephant?"

Anyway, the take-away that Reed gets from a strange, completely silent man THROWING A LIVE WHALE AT HIM is that this guy must know a thing or two about the sea-life in the area, and decides to recruit him for their monster-investigation. And Gil agrees to go along, assuming that he's been made as a secret fishman because nobody could be so oblivious about that fact after having several whales thrown at them.

There's a hard limit to the number of whales that can thrown at someone before it stops being a coincidence, as the proverb goes.

Anyway, Gil leads the FF in their submarine to the bottom of the Lost Lagoon, into an underwater bog... and then breaks the sub open with a fishy-fist, leaving the FF to drown at the bottom of the sea. Unfortunately for him, he ALSO didn't take the time to read all the Marvel trading cards and didn't know that Ben can last an incredibly long time without breathing; and is able to drag Reed and Johnny to safety (Sue stayed on the beach, since it's a vacation and everything) by finding an air-pocket in an underwater cavern which, coincidentally, was Gils home.

Naturally, a fight breaks out because... you know... there's a fish monster around, but Reed puts a stop to it after taking a look around the cavern and notices that the Fish Man was stockpiling water, and there was another, injured female fishman nearby.

And also there's a giant spaceship parked in the middle of the cave.

Reed decides that the Fishman and Fishwife were aliens from a water-planet who crashed on Earth, and were sinking boats because they felt threatened by them; stating they were right to think that way because Ben just up and started fighting him for no reason at all (forgetting the multiple whales that the guy threw at him).

Anyway, the Fishman finishes the repairs to his ship with Reeds blessing and he and his wife fly off to space, and Reed wonders if there was any connection between this fishman, and the SeaWorld performer that refused to speak, and tried to murder them underwater and threw a whale at them.

NEXT TIME: Neil has a Big Day
 
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