This is a weird bit of serendipity, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounces. I only just got done writing about the reprint of this story in MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS #22 a few moments ago, and the source for that reprint is the next book up in my survey of the books I acquired in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988. For those who are interested, that piece can be found here:
It was about ten years later that I wound up with a copy of this original printing, though obviously I’d read the story before. Still, we can take a much closer look at the thing here–so let’s get to it.
As I mentioned in the other piece, by 1964 editor Stan Lee had found a consistent strong inker for the work of Jack Kirby in the person of Chic Stone. But Stone wanted to do full art himself, he agreed to ink Kirby but he wasn’t fond of the idea of being pigeonholed as an inker (though that’s what ultimately did happen to him) and so he only did the job for about a year before moving on to greener pastures beyond Marvel. Stone over Kirby defined the look of Marvel in 1964–Stone was good at adding a sense of texture and completeness to Kirby’s work, and his thick-outlined approach to the figures was a good match with the more stripped-down-for-speed style that Jack was employing at this point. This splash page, for instance, shows off Stone’s ability to help supply depth to the picture through the use of controlled line weights. Consequently, Kirby’s pencils began to become a bit more complete as well.
Lee and Kirby were continuing in this period to cook up new characters, and while not all of them were absolute winners, most of them did go on to become regularly-featured players within the nascent Marvel Universe. So it was with Diablo. Reportedly, both men thought that he was a bit of a turkey, so they only used him twice. But other creators would continue to feature Diablo with some regularity over the years. Here, while on a vacation in Transylvania, the Thing is drawn to the castle where Diablo, the mad Alchemist, has been entombed for decades, and is driven to liberate the fearsome figure. For his trouble, Diablo transforms the Thing halfway back to his natural Ben Grimm state, at least visually, and he promises to go the rest of the way if Ben will work for him for a year. The rest of the FF is dubious–especially Reed, who indicates that he tried the same formula for a cure that Diablo used, with no effect–but the Thing bats his former teammates around in order to protect his new benefactor.
While Reed checks out one of Diablo’s portions which he swiped from the Alchemist’s lab, the villain and his rocky henchmen get busy, offering his miraculous potions to the rest of the world. This makes Diablo unspeakably wealthy in short order, as his potions appear able to do absolutely anything, and he uses his great wealth to recruit himself a private army–for conquest is his ultimate goal. But Reed, of course, gets to the bottom of things: Diablo’s potions have only a temporary effect, and they’re inherently dangerous. Giving that he’s pulling a fraud on the rest of the world, the Fantastic Four now have the rationale that they needed to take him on directly–though they’ll have to fight their way past his home-grown militia, and possibly the Thing as well. But they don’t need to worry about Ben Grimm–as soon as Ben realizes that the improvement to his looks is only temporary, Diablo gasses him to take him out of the picture. He’d served his purposes as a lackey.
This is all set-up for a spectacular and multi-page action sequence in which the three still-on-side members of the Fantastic Four tear through Diablo’s mercenaries like a hot knife through butter. Everybody gets an opportunity to do something and to be effective during this fight, including the often-diminished Sue Storm, who among other things turns Diablo invisible, leading to him almost being trampled by his own men. The trio eventually locates the Thing, where Diablo has him sealed up in suspended animation in a gigantic glass tube. But nothing they can do is able to shatter the Thing’s prison and free their old friend.
And fortunes reverse once the trio engages with Diablo himself. The ancient alchemist is able to expose all three of his remaining enemies to the same suspended animation vapors that felled the Thing, which puts them under as well. From there, it’s a simple matter for Diablo to seal them all up in similar tubes that he’s got waiting for just such a purpose. The adventure would seem to be over with the Fantastic Four chalking up a loss this time. But Diablo hasn’t reckoned with a fighting mad Thing yet. Ben comes to in the airless tube, but he’s mad enough and strong enough to shatter the thing from the inside. What’s more, he’s got a grade-A mad on for Diablo for having used him so badly, and he goes after the villain with savage intent, causing him to flee deeper and deeper back into the catacombs of his own castle.
A quick pause here for one of those cool old Marvel house advertisements, this one showing off the virtues of a pair of Annuals that marvel was releasing at that time; the first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL, which was all-new cover-to-cover, a Stan Lee and Steve Ditko tour-de-force, as well as MARVEL TALES ANNUAL #1, which contained the origins and/or first appearances of six of the Marvel heroes, for those who might have missed them only a few years prior. Interest in Marvel was growing so rapidly by 1964 that there were plenty of fans who relished this second chance to read these early stories, since they remained relevant to the current adventures.
Back at the story, Diablo retreats back to the chamber in which he was sealed at the beginning of the adventure, and the Thing brings the whole castle down on top of him, sealing him up forever. Well, that’s not quite how it worked out as it happens, Diablo would manage to snake his way out in just a couple of issues. But for this particular story, that wrapped things up pretty well. The Fantastic Four were reunited and the status quo was maintained. As he sometimes did, Lee ran a little bit long-winded in the closing caption, requiring letterer Art Simek to create a bit of a dogleg at the bottom of the final caption to fit in all of the copy.
As always, the issue wraps up with one of Stan Lee’s patented chatty two-page letters pages. This early on, the Bullpen Bulletins page hadn’t yet been invented, so Lee did his hard-sell for the assorted titles in the Marvel line here, in an extended Special Announcements Section at the end of the page. Stan’s talent as a salesman and a showman was never in greater evidence than on pages such as this one.