After two months of reprints and hastily-assembled album issues, the storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR once again began to move forward with the release of this issue. I have to say, I didn’t particularly mind those diversions, since the reprint was new to me, and the information contained in that album issue gave me a greater understanding of the history of the title. Still, it was nice to get back to the ongoing drama. That’s a great cover on this issue, too–both very distinctive and unique and also eye-catching. I’m pretty certain that my brother Ken later bought his own copy of this issue, as he would occasionally do with the books I bought.
Okay, so where were we? Reed Richards has lost his elastic powers and, feeling himself a burden, has chosen to disband the Fantastic Four. So now the depressed heroes prepare to each go their own way. The notion of the Fantastic Four disbanding was already something of a cliche by this point–that album issue I mentioned earlier depicted all of the prior times it had happened. But this was a larger story, and so it had more of a feeling of finality to it.
Both writer Len Wein and artist George Perez (supported, as always on this title, by inker Joe Sinnott) were in fine form here. George had reportedly been going through a bit of a bad time, which is why this story was so late. But the quality of the final pages makes up a bit for their tardiness. As the team packs up their belongings, Reed makes final arrangements with Agent Parcival of SHIELD to hand over all of their super-sensitive electronic equipment and weapons to that organization. Meanwhile, mailman Willie Lumpkin shows up to do a cameo–and this is the first time he’d been seen, believe it or not, since FF #15 in 1963. He’d become more ubiquitous in the years following (and Stan Lee would play him in the first FANTASTIC FOUR film.)
Wein plays this all out for maximum emotionalism, which was a real strength of his work. There isn’t a whole lot of action in the first half of the book, merely a number of personal moments, little interactions between the characters that make them all seem human and real. And a little bit of comedy, such as when the Thing hangs a pushy reporter from the sign outside of the Baxter Building. These are dense pages as well, with Perez easily composing in 7, 8, 9 and even greater numbers of panels. This design sense was a strength of his as well, as were these quieter scenes. He keeps things looking interesting even when there isn’t a whole lot visually going on.
So the team separates, with little Franklin being taken off by his governess Agatha Harkness, Reed stays behind, though, to complete the disassembly of all of the team’s sensitive equipment. But then, one of the SHIELD agents makes a mistake, evidencing knowledge of the stuff he’s moving that he should not have. Reed smells a rat, and he’s rapidly in a fight for his life with these ersatz SHIELD guys. But he’s able to make it to the window before he’s overwhelmed, and fires off the FF’s flare signal into the sky. His assailant, as it turns out, is the Plunderer, a long-time B-villain in the Marvel Universe who took advantage of the team separating to attempt to pillage their technology and secrets.
Scattered throughout the city, the other members of the FF are all overjoyed to see the danger signal in the sky, because this means that Reed must have come to his senses and changed his mind. As one, they race back to the Baxter Building, bursting in and scattering the Plunderer’s men to the four winds. But the Plunderer now has all of Reed’s weapons and inventions at his disposal, and he’s able to turn them on the hapless four, downing them one after another. Smothered in a fireproof tarp, the Human Torch is still able to spit fire across the room, burning through Reed’s bonds, and giving the scientist the chance to dash over and trigger a master switch that renders all of his devices inert.
It takes only a matter of minutes for the FF to clobber the Plunderer and the remainder of his men now that they’er weaponless, and they proceed to go just that. The Thing is convinced that this means that the team isn’t breaking up–but Reed and Sue sadly tell him that this doesn’t change anything. As they head out of the Baxter Building for what may be the final time, the Thing accosts their comedy relief landlord Mr. Collins (a recurring figure for years, sort of a cut-rate J. Jonah Jameson) one final time as he attempts to post a sign indicating that the FF’s headquarters is now for rent. Reed goes ahead and posts the sign himself–and with that, the Fantastic Four are no more. To Be Continued!