I was sampling all sorts of random Marvel books out of my drugstore’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics. Since they were selling these treasures at five for a dollar, it was always fiscally advantageous to pull five books at a time–if you went to the register with fewer than that, the outcome would depend on who was on station. Sometimes they might charge you 50 cents for 3 books, other times 50 cents for 2 books, and occasionally even full price for anything you brought up. I wasn’t at all confident in my dealings with adults and authority figures, so I wanted to avoid this question as much as possible. This did lead to me dipping my toe into a bunch of assorted books. INHUMANS had been cancelled by this time, but they had a few different issues in the bin.
This particular issue was one of those releases that had fallen prey to the scourge of 1970s Marvel: the unannounced reprint issue. I did a whole piece on these elsewhere, but the gist of things is that, because press time was booked ahead of time, you were going to pay for it whether you printed a comic or not. For a book that was running irretrievably late, that meant sticking in a reprint of some earlier story once the drop dead deadline had hit. It was devastating to sales–nobody likes to get suckered by an old story hiding behind a new cover. But in this instance, it was the very reason I picked up this issue of INHUMANS–rather than being by contemporary creators, the story was by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (well, really just Jack Kirby, as I’ll speak about in a moment) and it guest-starred the Fantastic Four. So it was no difficult decision to buy it.
The story was reprinted from the first two issues of AMAZING ADVENTURES, the first time that the Inhumans had been granted a series of their own. These were done right at the end of Jack Kirby’s time at Marvel, and in an attempt to placate Kirby a little bit, editor Stan lee allowed the King to dialogue these two stories as well as plotting and penciling them. So they’re a good representation of what a Kirby-scripted Marvel story might have looked like. As a kid, none of the dialogue stood out in the way Kirby’s later 1970s prose sometimes could–it read to me much like any other Stan and Jack story. (In typical fashion, Lee’s credit came first, even though he was only the editor on this story. Lee was excellent and insightful when it comes to making sure that readers related the wonder of Marvel with him, regardless of who might have actually been producing the stories in question.) The one misstep to my young eyes was a place where Black Bolt was given thought balloons. The fact that the leader of the Inhumans was not only silent but you never got an inkling as to his inner workings was one of the aspects that made him alluring as a character, so this struck me as wrong.
The inking on these stories was provided by Chic Stone. Stone had been one of the better Kirby inkers in the earliest days of Marvel. But by this point, between the fact that Kirby’s work had grown more detailed and design-oriented as his page rate got better and the fact that the size of the original art boards had decreased, Stone’s ink line seems a bit chunky and crude. What worked great in 1964 wasn’t as effective in 1970. It’s still a pretty good looking issue, but not as polished as it might have been had one of Kirby’s other inkers of the period–Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, Dan Adkins, even Vince Colletta–handled it.
The story was relatively basic, albeit entertaining. The first half of the issue (the first strip in the original printing) introduced the Inhumans and the key players of the Royal Family. Also introduced are Maximus and his band of Evil Inhumans, who have been exiled following their latest coup attempt. But Maximus has a new scheme in mind, and he arranges for a pair of missiles to be fired off at the Inhumans’ hidden land of Attilan–missiles adorned with the log of the Fantastic Four. The Royal Family, in particular the King himself, Black Bolt, are able to stop the missiles and prevent any damage to the city–but they’re perturbed by the idea that their friends in the FF have betrayed their location and attacked them. Black Bolt raises his fist to signal: war!
And war it is! As the back half of the issue/second story begins, the Royal Family stages a daring raid on the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building headquarters. Only the Thing, the Human Torch, and Medusa’s sister Crystal (misidentified here as her cousin) are present, and the Inhumans proceed to roll all over them. The eventual return of Reed and Sue with little Franklin does little to shift the odds. So the Inhumans come across as powerful and capable. And smart, too, as it turns out–because while Maximus contemplates the battle in his far-off exile citadel, Triton emerges from the sea. Not quite buying into the idea that the FF were attacking them for no reason, Black Bolt dispatched the aquatic Inhuman to investigate Maximus’ whereabouts. And, finding proof of Maximus’ guilt, Triton snatches him up from the midst of his allies and takes off with him back towards the Great Refuge and justice.
Back at the Baxter Building, the reunited Fantastic Four are about to launch a counter-offensive when the Inhumans suddenly sue for peace. Black Bolt has received word from Triton that the true villain has been captured, and so the Inhumans withdraw. But not before Medusa shakes her finger at the FF, and all humanity in general, saying how, even in the midst of an aggressive attack, Black Bolt sought out an avenue of peace, unlike the human race would. Which is some pretty world-class gaslighting, given that the Fantastic Four were just minding their own business, having done nothing wrong, when their supposed friends broke into their home, trashed the place and roughed them up. And the Inhumans are somehow the victims here? Even as a kid, I don’t think so.