BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #197

It seems like forever since we spoke about the issue of FANTASTIC FOUR that came out before this one. A side effect of me starting to find comic shops and regularly buy back issues as well as new books. But FANTASTIC FOUR was still my favorite series at this point, and I was very much invested in the steady build-up to issue #200. That build-up would have a semi-tragic outcome for me–but we’ll get to that eventually. For now, this new issue was a welcome sight on the 7-11 spinner rack that Thursday afternoon.

Another welcome sight was the return of inker.finisher Joe Sinnott to these pages after having skipped the previous three issues. I’m not sure what else Joe would have been pulled off for–possibly the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby SILVER SURFER graphic novel. But Joe’s finish was the accepted look of FANTASTIC FOUR, at least to me, and so it marked a step up for the series when he made his return. Which isn’t to knock penciler.breakdown artist Keith Pollard, whose work I liked during this period. Pollard was very much steeped in the Marvel house style of dramatics, and his pages were always crisp and clear. But with Sinnott back on top of his work, it looked like FANTASTIC FOUR once again. It’s rare that an inker has such a strong connection with a particular group of characters, but Sinnott had been on the book since 1966, and so he was the visual through-line of the series for many readers.

Marv Wolfman has expressed dissatisfaction with his FANTASTIC FOUR run in later years, finding that his approach was more suited for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN despite FF being his favorite series. But as a reader, I liked his FF. It was somehow more on-point than predecessor Len Wein’s, more in the zone of what I wanted out of the book. Some of that was simply my own youthful enthusiasm, I think–but Marv would become one of my favorite writers for the next several years, including after he migrated to DC and did NEW TEEN TITANS, GREEN LANTERN and ACTION COMICS. Knowing that issue #200 was in the immediate future and picking up the ball where Wein had left it, Marv crafted an adventure that brought the disbanded Fantastic Four back together again in time to face their arch-nemesis Doctor Doom in that big anniversary issue.

In the preceding issue, Doom and his underling had mesmerized Reed Richards and turned him into an agent who helped defeat his three former teammates. In this issue, for reasons of their own, Doom and his cohort work intend to see to it that Reed’s stretching abilities, which he had lost many, many months previous, were restored to him. To do this, they set up a space launch that will plunge Reed into cosmic rays once again. Marv includes a bit of argle-bargle to explain that conditions must be duplicated exactly, including mimicking sunspot activity and other such conditions, to explain why ordinary astronauts never got fabulous super-powers like these four guys did. Anyway, between the genius of Doom and Reed, the process works–Reed’s ductility is restored. But as an unexpected side-effect, the process also reincorporates the Red Ghost, who had been vaporized in a recent issue of IRON MAN.

Back on Earth, the three captive members of the Fantastic Four watch the mission in progress, as do Doom and Alicia Masters. Doom has captured Alicia so that she can sculpt a statue of himself to present to the United Nations. According to Latverian law, he has to pass on the throne at this time, which he intends to do–to his son. The FF are gobsmacked at the revelation that the person who had been aiding Doom all throughout the past couple of issues is secretly his offspring. Meanwhile, as you’d expect, a fight breaks out between the restored Red Ghost and the repowered Reed Richards–one that gives Pollard an opportunity to show off Reed’s stretching abilities to the max. It’s a pretty good battle, for all that the Red Ghost isn’t an especially dangerous opponent on the face of things. But just like Reed, his powers have been increased by this second exposure to the cosmic rays, and now he can project his intangibility much as Sue can project her invisible force-fields. The Ghost demonstrates this on the deck on which Reed is lying, fusing him into it.

The Ghost intends to scuttle the ship and have Reed die as it burns up upon re-entry, while he drifts earthwards in his intangible state. Unfortunately, thanks to some mumbo-jumbo about the unstable molecules that make up Reed’s costume which I didn’t buy even then, Reed is able to slowly pull his trapped form out of the floor and resume his fight with the Ghost. But the damage has been done–as the two men fight, the ship begins its re-entry procedure, and with nobody at the controls, it’s burning up as it enters the atmosphere. The Ghost is able to slip through the outer hull in his intangible state to relative safely, exiting the story at that point. But Reed’s on a one-way ticket to oblivion.

As a distraught Fantastic Four look on, Reed’s craft breaks up explosively. Everybody, including Doom, assumes that he must be dead. But they don’t see the tiny steel canister that flies out of the explosion, a cannister which contains the hyper-compressed form of Reed Richards. Reed succeeded in radioing Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. before the crash, and they’re in time to fish him out of the drink. What’s more, he’s worked out that it must be Doctor Doom behind all of this–and so he’s determined to invade Latveria on his own, free his teammates, and bring the menace of Doctor Doom to a finish once and for all. To Be Continued.

5 thoughts on “BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #197

  1. Summer before fourth grade— this was my first-ever purchased comic book (Avengers 174 was just underneath it when I plunked down a buck for those two comics and a Grape Faygo at the Haslett party shop counter). Liked it enough to keep getting it monthly, and wound up getting the 196 issues + annuals and giant-sizes that preceded it. Wolfman was the writer who hooked me and Pollard/Sinnott we’re as good as nearly any other art team at Marvel at the time, IMO. By the end of summer I’d read a few early Lee/Kirby FF reprints and followed the current story to FF 200 and there was no going back— this was MY book.

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  2. This comic–and the Hulk #226 you wrote about a couple weeks ago–were the first two I ever picked up as a 10-year-old kid. It started a lifetime’s obsession I still feel to this very day even though it’s been several decades since I’ve actively collected comics. But I do keep up with the medium and even occasionally use them in my curriculum as a high school English teacher. Plus, I have one long-time buddy who co-owns a comic book store and another who works in animation, so I still feel connected in many ways to the hobby that helped get me through a challenging childhood.

    While I don’t “do” social media at all and consciously try to limit my time online, this blog is one I’ve become very fond of & I’m guessing it will be even more fun now that you’ve caught up to my own comic collecting entry point. Just one request: Include more letters pages!

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  3. I loved these FF comics when I was a kid! And you’re right, its not just the FF without the great Joe Sinnott.

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