BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #198

Dumb observation first: that blue molding on the corridor Reed and the troops are running down confuses my eye every time I look at this cover. Even after 40+ years, every time I look at it, my brain wants to decode it as somehow being a part of Reed’s body, the only other 100% blue element in that area. So it’s a bad coloring choice. Anyway, this was again another new issue that I bought a trifle early from my excursion to Heroes World in Levittown, New York following a day spent working in my father’s office. And this was a big score for me, as at the time, FANTASTIC FOUR was bar-none my favorite comic book series.

I don’t know that it entirely holds up as being quite so strong today, but being the first time I had lived through the trope of “the Fantastic Four break up” combined with the fact that it was a situation tat wasn’t dispensed with in an issue or two but which ran as an ongoing plot for about a year made these stories seem all the more crucial and important at the moment. I was really on board with the notion of not knowing how anything was going to resolve–on some level, I knew that the Fantastic Four would get back together again, they had a comic to be in after all. But I took the situation entirely at face value, without any artifice, and bought in completely to what was going on. A lot of that is likely due to the work of writer Marv Wolfman, who became a real favorite of min in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Marv has said in later years that he doesn’t feel like his FF work was up to snuff, but it all worked great for me.

Similarly, the artwork was back in point with the return of inker Joe Sinnott to finish Keith Pollard’s pencils. I liked Pollard’s work quite a bit–both here on FF and also on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and THOR eventually. But the book just didn’t look right without Sinnott’s deft hand on the finish, so associated was his sheen with the characters and series. And the running storyline had moved into its third act, one that would climax in the upcoming FANTASTIC FOUR #200 in two months. Unfortunately, that double-sized issue wouldn’t ship in my area, causing me to miss it in real time, a traumatic moment for me as a young comic book collector. But we’ll get to that all in greater detail in the future.

This issue opens with Reed Richards, his stretching powers having been restored in the previous issue, making a one-man assault on Latveria, the kingdom ruled by the FF’s enemy Doctor Doom. Reed has worked out that Doom is responsible for him getting his powers back, and that he’s also captured the rest of the FF for some nefarious purpose. After not having them for about two years, Wolfman and Pollard take special care to make Reed a bit of a badass in this issue (as they did in the prior one as well), showing just how formidable he can be physically as well as mentally. This was all in keeping with the Jack Kirby incarnation of Reed, who was cut in an action hero’s mold for all that he was also a stuffy scientist. It’s a character interpretation that has largely fallen by the wayside over the years, as Reed has become more emotionally distant and distracted. I don’t quite know how or why that happened, it just did.

Upon entering Latveria, Reed finds himself hooking up with the underground, including the rightful heir to the throne that Doom has usurped, Zorba. And it’s from Zorba that both Reed and we readers learn a bit more about what Doom has planned. He’s invoked an old law that requires him to pass on the throne to a successor, and the person he’s selected for this honor is apparently his own heretofore-unseen son. What’s more, he intends to siphon off the FF’s cosmic powers and grant them to his heir. And he’s also got Alicia Masters sculpting a majestic statue of himself as he looked before the accident that destroyed his face, which he intends to give as a gift to the United Nations. There can’t be anything sinister going on with that, right?

Accordingly, Reed and Zorba’s underground stages a raid on Doom’s castle in order to free the prisoners. But they’re both outnumbered and outgunned, to say nothing of the fact that Doom’s defenses are the best in the world. This is another set of action set-pieces designed to make Reed’s stretching abilities look formidable, and they largely succeed. Pollard and Sinnott in particular do a good job of imbuing Reed with a sense of speed that makes his physical transformations feel very smooth and effortless.

In any event, it’s a gantlet-run for Reed, Zorba and the underground troops, with more and more of them getting picked off along the way. Eventually, though, as it typically does in these sorts of situations, things come down to Zorba and Reed. They waylay Doom’s aide Hauptmann, and Reed attempts to infiltrate Doom’s sanctum by posing as the scientist. But Doom is a step ahead, he’s been monitoring events all along, and he effortlessly strikes Reed down. And now Doom can get back to his original plan: to transfer the powers of the entire Fantastic Four into the body of his son. As that process begins, the story is To Be Continued!

10 thoughts on “BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #198

  1. “It’s a character interpretation that has largely fallen by the wayside over the years, as Reed has become more emotionally distant and distracted. I don’t quite know how or why that happened, it just did.”
    I think it’s a pop-culture shift — man of action and really smart guy can’t co-exist. No way Reed would be out in the field as an OSS agent if he were having WW II adventures today — he’d be in the Manhattan Project or cracking the enigma code. It’s the same mindset that makes every reboot of Brainiac 5 more and more unpleasant, because as he’s smart he can’t possibly have good social skills, amiright?
    This was an excellent run and the climax in #200 is really epic.

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  2. “Dumb observation first: that blue molding on the corridor Reed and the troops are running down confuses my eye every time I look at this cover. Even after 40+ years, every time I look at it, my brain wants to decode it as somehow being a part of Reed’s body, the only other 100% blue element in that area.”

    I didn’t understand what you meant by this, so I took a closer look at the cover and — yikes! All these years, I’d thought that _was_ a part of Reed’s body, even though it doesn’t make sense…

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      1. At one point he was drawing THOR, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and FANTASTIC FOUR simultaneously, which was impressive not just in terms of the output, but of doing such prominent books…

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  3. That is impressive. I lost track of his work after the early eighties, but he always delivered some memorable panels… Reed pulling himself through a hairline crack, Ironman knocking the Punisher through a truck, a powerless Peter Parker breaking loose from a chair. All great stuff.

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    1. Sadly, the “Action Scientist” character is gone from popular culture. Indiana Jones is perhaps a hold-over, and he’s deliberately retro there. I think it’s from the decline of the space program and the rise of computers, which has replaced that role with the “Autistic Nerd” character instead.

      Come to think of it, Reed’s powers should give him a massive wallop in terms of punching strength. He has the ability to put mass into his fists, and to swing them through a long arc to give them a high velocity. That should immediately knock down, if not knock out, a low-level opponent.

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