BHOC: MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS #71

This was another book that I got out of a 3-Bag at the Two Guys discount store, and a book that would have made such a bag a must-buy for me. Because at this time, FANTASTIC FOUR was my favorite comic book series, and so an opportunity to get another new-to-me issue was something I would not have passed up. This was the second part of a two-part story for which I had already read the first part, to say nothing of the summary of both parts in the Power Records FANTASTIC FOUR Book & Record I owned. But none of that was going to dissuade me–I had to have this book, reprint or not.

The story had originally seen print in 1969, a solid nine years earlier–which seemed like an eternity to my younger self but which appears incredibly recent to my eyes today. It was from right towards the end of Kirby’s days on the series, at a point where he was increasingly unhappy and frustrated with his situation, and was striving mightily not to create anything new for Marvel. But even under those conditions, Kirby was too committed a storyteller to just phone an assignment in, and so these stories were as compelling to me as a boy as any others. And the artwork remained top-notch, with the omnipresent Joe Sinnott continuing to provide the sleek finish to Kirby’s pencils on the series.

But because he was doing his work half-heartedly, Kirby was making mistakes routinely during this period. In the issue before this one, he’d drawn Reed Richards on the splash page with a left hand at the end of his elongated right arm, and in this issue, after a big deal is made in the prior installment of the fact that the Thing has not accompanied the rest of the family out to the new house Reed and Sue have purchased in the suburbs (which is actually a construct of the Mole Man’s), in this chapter he is suddenly present with no explanation. For this reprint, the reprint editor, having noticed the discrepancy, added in a balloon for Ben on this page indicating that he’s just shown up and has been immediately struck blind. It was as good a fix as anything.

The first half of the story is little more than an extended fight scene, with Kirby routinely doing four-panel pages and more splash images than you would expect in a single issue. The Mole Man’s weaponized house has struck the Fantastic Four blind, as he himself is, and Moley intends to increase its broadcast power to blanket the entire world, making himself the king of the kingdom of the blind. It’s a pretty good hook for an adventure story, and Kirby’s action choreography is second to none. But then, we break for a subplot as well as one of Jack’s photo-montages–these things are lovely in full color and real life, but with the crummy printing used in the books in those days, they seldom looked good. On this reprint, the rocket launch that the Skrull saucers are talking about is virtually impossible to see because the image has become so dark. In any event, a Skrull is headed to Earth in order to enslave some unsuspecting victim.

Back at the ranch house, the FF continue to struggle with their adversary despite the handicap of not being able to see. You would think this fight would be a cake walk for the Mole Man, but it turns out that our heroes are still fairly formidable even sightless. But ultimately, while trying to save Sue, Reed takes a full shock-discharge from the Mole Man’s staff at point blank range. Stan dialogues this sequence differently from how Kirby had obviously choreographed it–Stan introduces the idea that Reed grabbing the Mole Man’s staff in the wrong places electrifies him, but the visuals clearly show Reed grabbing the staff and pulling it upwards so it inadvertently faces him as it goes off. It’s a much more self-sacrificing moment as Kirby depicts it, but for whatever reason Stan chose to go another way with the moment, as he often did.

Kirby was also the king of kick-ass women, and so in the next moment, hearing her husband’s seeming death-cry, Sue Richards goes berserk. She grapples with the Mole Man, causing him to lose the protective glasses that shield his sensitive eyes from the light. Now everybody is on equal footing, and Sue beats the bejeezus out of the cringing Mole Man. The Torch shows up before the end to get in a couple of good licks, too–including one panel where his figure has clearly been redrawn by John Romita. But this is Sue’s moment.

But Reed is still at death’s door, and it falls to the Thing to give him CPR and attempt to revive him. Which he does, of course–Reed wasn’t killed off in 1969, after all. And when he comes back around, Stan attempts to give him credit for the FF’s win by indicating that he’d deliberately pointed the Mole Man’s staff at the wall, trying to destroy the blindness-causing equipment in it. There’s no evidence of any of that in the art, but hey, let’s allow Reed his moment, shall we? Because elsewhere, as the story closes out, that saucer from earlier comes in for a landing on Earth, and its extraterrestrial inhabitant begins his hunt. To Be Continued!

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