Another book that came to me out of a 3-Bag, this issue of FANTASTIC FOUR would have been the reason I bought the 3-Bag in question, regardless of what other titles might have been inside it. FF was, by this point, my favorite comic book series, and so an opportunity to fill in another missing issue in my collection was manna from heaven. I also really liked the George Perez design for the Eliminator, seen here in all his full-figure glory. I would rip off aspects of this design for years in creating my own characters and stories.
This is also the issue where, after a very rocky road for about six month, the title finally clicks back into place. Len Wein comes aboard as the regular writer, joined by returning penciler George Perez. This was still a young George, with ace embellisher Joe Sinnott still doing a lot of the lifting in terms of making the final art look polished. But this issue also coincides with when George made the first of several breakthroughs, his art jumping up to a new level as he mastered some aspect of the job and made it his own. It was issues like this one that made him my favorite super hero artist, a position he would hold throughout the 1980s and 1990s–I would follow George’s work practically anywhere. On another note entirely, it’s likely that Thundra’s miscolored costume on this splash page came down to the separator misinterpreting a YR code on the color guide as YB and acting accordingly.
That’s a phenomenally good cityscape in that first panel, the sort of thing that Jack Kirby would occasionally do, where buildings were reduced to geometric design forms, but somehow filtered through George’s approach. The Torch figure is nice as well, and well-composed in the space. Additionally, George would routinely pack his pages with tons of panels–for all that this page opens on a 1/2 page splash image, it’s still a 6-panel page, which is astonishing. This meant that George’s books were filled with more story, more characterization bits, more substance than was typical. You really felt like you got your money’s worth as a reading experience in a Perez title at this point.
Plot-wise, Len spends his opening few pages cleaning up loose ends from the Brute storyline that had run for several issues. He momentarily writes out the visiting Thundra and Tigra and sends the Impossible Man off to the movies before picking up on a dangling plot thread–that Agatha Harkness and her charge young Franklin Richards had been abducted by parties unknown. With this new information galvanizing the team into action, including Reed Richards who had lost his stretching abilities, the FF head off to Agatha’s home in Whisper Hill to try to track down the kidnappers. All except the Human Torch, that is–Johnny flew off earlier and we saw him get zapped by a mystery assailant.
Here’s another example of George being simultaneously spectacular and concise: he does an amazing double-page panoramic shot of the Fantasti-Car being destroyed by the ray-beam of the same shadowy antagonist who took out the Torch. But he confines the image to the upper tier on a three-tier spread. He still manages to pack that panel of destruction with such detail that it’s about as impactful as it would have been had it taken up the whole page–but he’s also able to add a whopping 11 more panels after it across these two pages. These are both effectively six-panel pages, which is astonishing given the visual impact they possess. In any case, as you can see, as the FF approach Whisper Hill, the Fantasticar is shot out from under them, and they find the Human Torch strung up on the landing inside the Harkness house.
Thereafter, the team is confronted by the Eliminator, a huge cyborg dude who says that his mission is to erase any evidence of Agatha Harkness from the outside world, including this house and the Fantastic Four themselves. Why he kept the Torch alive and brought him out here is a mystery for the ages, I’m afraid. Reed and Sue are quite obviously concerned about what this means for the welfare of little Franklin, and so a protracted fight sequence breaks out. It’s lovingly depicted by Perez who, despite the fact that he’s still often using 9-panel pages, packs it with energy and incident.
Ultimately, one by one the Eliminator seems to succeed in taking out the Fantastic Four, and he then moved to fulfill his mission by activating the self-destruct device built into his cyborg body and destroying all evidence of the house itself. But the FF are still alive, turned invisible and protected by Sue’s force-field, and the Eliminator has fused himself to the ground in preparation for detonation, so he cannot go after them as they flee the soon-to-be annihilated structure. Lamenting the fact that no Eliminator before him has ever failed, the cyborg detonates, taking Agatha Harkness’s manor with him. But the FF survive, once again protected by Sue’s force-field. They’re no closer to finding their missing child, but they are alive to fight another day. This is a great-looking comic and an excellent read, a nice example of what attracted me to FANTASTIC FOUR at the beginning.