Another reprint title, also purchased at my local 7-11. I can remember coming home with it, stopping off at a friend’s house along the way. As MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS reprinted classic Fantastic Four stories, it was a no-brainer for me to pick up; at this moment, FANTASTIC FOUR was probably my favorite comic book, a huge turn-around from just a few months earlier when I wouldn’t be caught dead looking at a Marvel book. My conversion was that swift. This issue featured the final chapter in what would turn out to be Jack Kirby’s final multi-part storyline in the series.
The artwork in this issue was harsher-seeming than what I was used to, more in line with the modern titles that Kirby was illustrating. That’s because it was one of a relatively few issues that Joe Sinnott sat out as regular inker of the series. Sinnott’s crisp, slick line was almost a signature for the FF, and something was definitely missing without it. Substitute inker Frank Giacoia was among Kirby’s most faithful inkers, but he didn’t do the embellishment that Sinnott carried out, especially on areas such as the Thing’s skin. It really made a difference.
The storyline concerned the Thing having been captured by a Skrull slaver to fight on behalf of a mob boss in the Great Games, on a Skrull planet whose cultural identity had been inspired by mob life in the 1920s on Earth. I wasn’t a regular viewer of STAR TREK, where Kirby lifted the basic idea for this storyline, so I had no idea of its origins coming in–I was enthralled. This late in the game, and with one foot out the door, Kirby was doing just enough work to get by, particularly in the plotting sense. His Fantastic Four stories of this era are like a Rorschach test of what he was watching and reading–they wore their source material on their sleeves. Anyway, the FF have discovered the Thing is missing and have gone in pursuit of him–with the flaming Torch somehow flying and on fire in the void of space, go figure.
On the Skrull planet Kral, Ben has made the acquaintance of Torgo, a robotic gladiator from another far-off world who has likewise been forced to become the champion of a rival boss. Now, the two must battle to the death in the arena, or else the Skrulls will destroy their homeworlds through the use of their sonic disrupter. The Thing would rather team up with Torgo against their captors, but Torgo won’t risk it–and he’s powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with Ben.
Out in space, the FF succeed in tracking down the Skrull slaver and boarding his ship, intending to invade the heart of the Skrull Galaxy. Meanwhile, after a round that proved to be a draw, Ben and Torgo have been given new weapons (these ones straight out of that STAR TREK episode) and made to go at it again. The Thing is able to get the upper hand on Torgo, but he’s not a killer and can’t bring himself to finish off his opponent. So Torgo is able to get back to his feet, and he doesn’t appear to have the same qualms about finishing off Ben.
Meanwhile, the FF have made it to Kral, and dressed as period gangsters (and with Reed looking particularly like William Shatner in the disguise) they snatch up one of Boss Barker’s men to guide them to where the Thing is being held. Kirby clearly loves the gangland ambiance of the 1920s and goes all-out visually whenever a moment comes where he can depict it. Back at the fight, Torgo has the Thing on the ropes–but now he finds that he can’t land the final blow, not to one who ad shown him mercy.
As punishment for his rebellious behavior, the Skrulls heat up their sonic disrupter, intending to wipe out both Torgo’s world and Earth. But the FF show up just then, and Crystal uses her elemental power to destroy the disrupter. With the threat hanging over his head gone, Torgo breaks open the slave pens and leads a rebellion against their Skrull captors. The FF don’t bother to stick around for this–they rendezvous with Ben and get the hell out of Dodge while they can. And as they fly off, Ben salutes his former foeman Torgo, and wishes him well in the battle ahead.