Also in the big big of somewhat-old comics on this particular trip was a pair of issues of MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS featuring the Fantastic Four. This was the earlier of the two, a reprint of a classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby issue (albeit one that had pages edited out of it in order to make it fit the modern truncated page count.) One thing has always bugged me about this cover from the day I first laid eyes on it, and that’s the way Reed’s arm is obstructing his face. That’s such a blatant no-no, and he’s so central to the composition (and a star of the book) that it’s frankly astonishing that editor Lee didn’t ask for a modification.

This is kind of a weird issue in that the Fantastic Four, while they occupy a number of pages in the story, really aren’t that relevant to it–if you took them out, the adventure would have played out in precisely the same way. I’ve never confirmed it 100% but I’ve long suspected that’s because this two-parter incorporated pages that Kirby had generated for the proposed-but-never-completed Inhumans spin-off comic book, which the FF wouldn’t have been a part of. So the FF largely keep to themselves in this story right up until the end.

This was my first encounter with the Inhumans, and while they were cool enough, they don’t really get enough individual moments to really pop as individual characters. So they were cool and strange, but somewhat cold to me. I can’t even swear that all of them were identified by name. Anyway, the issue opens with the FF hopelessly trapped in a prison cell by Maximus, who has taken over the Inhumans’ Great Refuge and who intends to use the same will-sapping technology on the rest of the world. And he can do it, too, because he’s also got the Inhuman Royal Family captive, thanks to the fact that Black Bolt dare not use the explosive power of his voice without killing his family.

But by exercising all of his strength of will, Black Bolt is able to shatter their cage with precision, without harming his fellow Inhumans. But they’re swarmed by the deadly Alpha Primatives under Maximus’ command, and have to fight their way through them. Here, Lee let’s Kirby lead in a two-page fight sequence that’s virtually wordless. It’s a great sequence, but it doesn’t do much to make a reader connection with the individual Inhumans. Kirby follows that up with another splash page of the Inhumans racing to confront Maximus–the sort of splash that he was doing in this period when he was most frustrated, which is super-cool but doesn’t really advance the story at all.

The story cuts back home for a few panels at this point as Sue puts her newborn and as-yet-unnamed child to bed. I knew from other issues that this was Franklin, but sequences like this one led me to feel as though I was assembling the history of this series like an archaeologist. This was one of the benefits of Marvel’s line of reprint titles which ran during this period. They were not only easy to produce and expanded Marvel’s shelf presence, but they helped readers like me catch up on the Marvel Universe. Anyway, Reed dopes out that the prison the FF are in is a hypnotic construction that only exists in their minds, and when he and the team are able to make it vanish, they also make quick work of Zorr, the robot who had beaten them last issue using similar technology.

The FF hear crowds outside and move to investigate–and it’s Maximus and his followers, proclaiming himself Emperor of the Inhumans. He’s ready to unleash his Hypno-Ray on the world–but Crystal shows up and destroys the weapon with just a gesture of her Elemental powers. Realizing that the Royal Family has freed themselves, Maximus runs for the hills–for all his big talk, he’s really not much of a formidable villain in this story. The Inhuman masses who were happy to be a part of Team Maximus a few seconds ago now call for his head (maybe they were ensorceled by his Hypno-Ray as well? The story doesn’t make this clear.) But Black Bolt motions for them to stand down–he holds his people blameless for the crimes of Maximus. (Nice guy!)

And it’s only at this point that the FF show up. The Human Torch has a steamy reunion with his girlfriend Crystal while Reed almost plaintively asks if there’s any fighting left to be done. He knows that they’ve missed the climax of the story, and he seems almost a little bit embarrassed about it. All eyes turn as Maximus and his band of Evil Inhumans launch themselves in a getaway rocket, and the adventure is at an end. It isn’t a great issue by any means, but the characters are fun (at least the FF themselves) and Kirby visuals and storytelling remains strong.

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