Friday, January 23, 2009

Fantastic Four #147: Family Matters: The Fantastic Four's Triumphs and Tribulations, part 4

Part 4:1 – Do You Know Where Your Woman Is Tonight?
Fantastic Four # 147
June 1974
“The Sub-Mariner Strikes!”
Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler, and Joe Sinnott

Doug: As a bridge between the gut-wrenching story we’ve just taken a look at (albeit a long look – but it was fun!) and the story we’re next interested in (FF #’s 147-149), here’s a very brief look at events involving Reed/Sue/Franklin over the intervening two story arcs.

Doug: The issues from 142-146 are not without their significance in their own right – we see the introduction of Darkoth the Death-Demon on #142, the beginning of Rich Buckler’s tenure as penciller on the title (and his quick transition to a “Kirbyish” style), a great Doctor Doom entrance (copied (?) in The Empire Strikes Back) that leads into a mediocre two-parter in #’s 143-144, and Ross Andru as guest-penciller in #’s 145-146.

Sharon: Regarding the Dr. Doom entrance, it was copied all right—but not exactly in the way you think. This is a clear swipe of a Jack Kirby panel from Fantastic Four #87.  I’ll get to Rich Buckler’s—ahem—“homage” to Kirby later on in this entry, but as for The Empire Strikes Back—as many are aware, there have been theories and arguments raging for decades about whether Kirby’s work influenced George Lucas and his Star Wars films. But that is a topic for another day…

Doug: Issue #142 gives us a recap of the events at the end of the previous story, mostly as related by Ben. Johnny has interaction with an old classmate of Reed’s, who happens to coach football at Metro U. Sue drives Franklin back to the farm where she’d sought refuge some issues before (only to have been kidnapped by Agatha Harkness). Other than that, most of the issue is a battle royale between Ben and Darkoth, and further revelations on Alicia Masters’ attempt to have her eyesight restored. One might also question if Medusa wasn’t in romantic pursuit of Reed in this issue as well. Another thing: I found it odd that Reed’s classmate, Coach Thorne, when laying eyes up Doom, acted as if he’d never seen the good Doctor. Must never watch the news or pick up a paper…

Doug: Issue #143 really doesn’t address the Sue/Franklin subplot, other than to show a 3-panel shot of Sue lamenting that she can trust no one after what Reed did – NO ONE! By the way, Giacoia’s inks over Buckler in this book leave a lot to be desired as compared to Sinnott’s!!

Karen: I’ll second that – Giacoia’s inks look rough and unfinished compared to Sinnott’s.

Sharon: Agreed, Buckler’s work looks terrible here. His pencils usually need a lot of help in the inking stage, and while I think Giacoia’s is a very good inker, Giacoia’s linework is too delicate for Buckler. Buckler usually needs a “slick” inker like Sinnott—or even a Dan Adkins (in Giant-Size Avengers #1), both of whom really add a polish to his pencils.

Doug: And that’s about it… Issues 144-146 were basically throwaways if you ask me. For Conway having been on the top of his game in the story we reviewed over the past two weeks, and returning to the summit with our next arc, he sure took some creative “time off” over these five months.

Karen: That’s putting it kindly, Doug. These issues were mediocre. Even the Dr. Doom story was boring.

Doug: Personally, I’m really excited to discuss this particular issue – the arc, too, but more for this story. When I was a youngster we moved away from my hometown due to a change in jobs. I was fortunate that I was able to find some new friends who shared my budding interest in comics. I really hit it off with one friend in particular, and he had this issue. FF #147 had to be perhaps only the fourth or fifth issue of the magazine I’d ever read. So, with a limited background I was just wide-eyed at the emotion of this tale – even as a not-quite-8-year old, I knew that this was big stuff. The fight early on between Ben, Johnny, and Namor was captivating. We had a lot of Megos back then, and we would act out various scenarios we’d seen. I had a Tarzan, and the “newer” Megos had colored briefs under the costumes. A stripped-down Tarzan was our Sub-Mariner!

Doug: But back to the story… As an adult, I can only imagine how painful it must be to be served a divorce summons, as Reed received from Sue. Conway was treading on very mature themes as we head into this story.

Karen: Yes, as we discussed before, I believe these stories from the 70’s were the precursor to our modern day ultra-realism. While on one hand I can appreciate such things, I’m sort of sorry to see mainstream comics turn so unrelentingly negative now. Although perhaps with the change in administrations and the overall resurgence of hope (even in these grim times) we might see comics become more optimistic as well.

Doug: Although the battle scene between Ben and Johnny and Namor was well choreographed, I do find it a little strange that Namor was just lying in wait beneath the waters of that lake. I suppose the flight path to Sue’s friends’ place was pretty well known and even standard, but it was a bit of a stretch on Conway’s part. Too, the asbestos net? Where exactly had Namor hidden that? Seems his outfit lacks a utility belt!

Karen: The details of the story do not bear close inspection!

Doug: A comment on Rich Buckler’s art in this issue – in his first story, #142, either he took pains to emulate John Buscema or Joe Sinnott provided that as a service. In the succeeding few issues, Buckler took on more of the “Kirbyish” appearance; but by the time we roll into this arc I would say he’s walking more on his own two feet. While the Kirby look is still present, there really are some fine looking panels in this story and I think that’s a tribute to Buckler’s growing confidence in himself.

Karen: I always liked Rich Buckler’s work. He was part of a group of very talented young artists and writers- perhaps the second wave of Marvel? – who made their mark in the 70s. I think because he worked on both FF and Thor, the Kirby clone label was applied to him. I mean, anyone being inked by Joe Sinnott is going to look somewhat like Kirby! Look at his other work, such as Deathlok in Astonishing Tales. The guy was a great storyteller and could flat-out draw!

Sharon: Okay. Buckler. So I’m reading FF #147 for the first time, courtesy of Fantastic Four Essentials Volume #7, and I noticed something strange—the panel of Subby carrying Sue in his arms looked awfully familiar. (The FF Essentials #7 does not include page numbers, but for the record the panel I’m referring to appears on page 10, panel 4 of the FF #147 reprint.) I had a strong feeling of déjà vu, I knew I’d seen that panel before—I could vividly picture it in context in another story---and off I raced to FF Annual #1…and sure enough, there it was, in all its Kirbyesque glory, on page 36, panel 1 of the Annual! Buckler had essentially copied the Sue and Namor figures!
Sharon: And for those who'd like to see even more Buckler/Kirby Fantastic Four panels like these, feel free to check out my Panelocity blog! Now, back to the discussion. A tribute to Kirby? Perhaps. As I read some of the other Buckler-illustrated stories in FF Essentials #7, I noticed a slew of other such “tributes”, only more creatively done. For example, in #149, take the panel on page 2, panel 4, in which Johnny grabs Medusa by the hand. That’s taken from FF #79, only in the original it’s Johnny grabbing Crystal’s hand.
Buckler swipe
Sharon: FF #151: the male figure in the first panel on page 8 is based on the Galactus figure on page 2 in FF #49.

Sharon: FF #152: the first panel on page 10 is based on a panel of Crystal being carried off in FF #84.

Sharon: FF #153: the two middle panels on page 6 are based on two panels in FF #19. Also, in #153, on page 7, the middle panel is based on a panel in FF Annual #5. The figure of Medusa in the last panel on page #13 is based on Medusa in a panel from #47. Again, for those who want to see even more Buckler adaptations of Kirby, feel free to visit the Panelocity site--these Kirby tributes/homages/swipes are often very ingenious!

Sharon: There's also the aforementioned Dr. Doom swipe (in FF #142) from FF #87.These are just a few of the images I saw right off the bat.  Now of course I knew of Buckler’s reputation as a swipe artist but I’d assumed it just meant he was adept at mimicking styles on demand; certainly, he’s proven he can draw in the style of giants like John Buscema, Neal Adams and Kirby; and from what I’ve read, he was encouraged (by Marvel management) to do so. But I was amazed at the sheer number of very obvious, outright copies of Kirby’s panels.

Sharon: Since I did not read these Buckler issues back when they were first released, and because the Essentials do not contain the letter pages, I have to ask: back when these FF issues hit the stands, did readers comment on his tendency to use images/layouts from Kirby’s FF? Was there any sort of public acknowledgement by Marvel management of the legitimacy of this “method?” 

Doug: WOW!! Sharon, you have some memory! I really had no idea that the swipes were that extensive. You have inspired some research on my part!

Karen: OK...that's just ridiculous.

Doug: Once Ben and Johnny got to the Linders’ home, I felt like there was more to the story than we were being told – Conway’s tangled web, I’m sure. If you think back to Sue’s comment related above, from #143, Namor has been perhaps the only other person besides Reed whom she has had the trust of. It just seemed odd to me that he would have shown up out of the blue – and speaking of blue, why the devil would Sue have been in costume??

Karen: And speaking of costumes, why is that despite the fact Namor has had his blue suit for 30 + years, I still think of it as his “new” suit?! I guess it must have to do with first impressions and all that.

Sharon: This Namor costume was not one of John Romita’s finer creations. For one thing, what was the deal with those Black Bolt-like arm “membrane wings”?

Doug: That’s funny to me, Sharon – I have always much preferred Namor’s blue suit to the green trunks. I always found it odd that a king would walk about nearly naked. I think Romita’s design is very regal. I’ll give you the questionable functionality of the wings – but hey, can we really believe that he can fly on those little ankle wings?

Doug: Reed’s preparation was fun – vintage stuff. The big map, the radiation tracker, the oxy-pills, Johnny’s heat frame… Did anyone else think Namor’s fortress looked like Tomazooma (see FF #80)?

Karen: Much as I like Buckler, that thing was just goofy. It looked more like a giant robot than a fortress! Tomazooma is not far off.

Doug: Well, didn’t Sue drop a bombshell in the last panel? Wow. “You see, Reed – it’s something I’ve always suspected – and now know to be true: I love the Sub-Mariner, and I’m going to stay with him… forever!” I thought Namor’s charges against Reed were very callous, but they jarred Reed. One had to wonder if Sue really did hate Reed for what he’d done to Franklin and if Namor wasn’t the strong sanctuary she had sought. To follow-up on the recollections from my childhood, I have to tell you that I didn’t see issues 148-149 for decades. I personally had a smattering of issues through the #150’s and the first “new” issue I recall buying myself was #160. So by then I knew how this had all turned out. But what a cliffhanger!

Karen: Sue really doesn’t come off too well in these issues. Despite her frustration over not being treated as an equal, she comes across (to me) as a very dependent woman. She leaves Reed, and then turns around and runs off to her fantasy man, Namor. It seems like she was still looking for someone to take care of her and call the shots.

Sharon: As I mentioned when we discussed FF #141-142, during this time Sue comes across as whiny. And hello- - WHY would she put physical distance between herself and probably the only person in the world who could cure Franklin?


Skydragon said...

Sharon's eye in remembering those copycat panels is amazing... 0_0

I agree that Namor's fortress looks like a giant robot, it even has eyes and a head! Regarding his costume, can those wings be a homage to Spider-Man's axillary web in the early Ditko design of the costume? (or perhaps it was Ditko's element to reference those wings). They just look too similar, concept-wise, to be a coincidence.

Sharon said...

Skydragon, interesting point about the Namor-Spider-Man costume connection...perhaps Romita was indeed tipping his hat to his predecessor, Ditko!

Roy Thomas was the one who asked Romita to design the costume for Namor--he thought it might spark sales for Subby's book. It didn't, and the book was canceled about six months later.

Karen said...

Those wings also remind me of Blackbolt's wings, which seemed more prominent when Kirby drew him.

Skydragon said...

It was probably a longshot to hope that a new costume alone could improve the sales of the book, but it certainly seems to be a rather rooted idea. After all even now, decades later, when a book is not doing too well they often try to spark the attention with a new costume.

Regarding the wings, another potential reference could be Batman! Those types of membranous wings are typical of bats, and, unlike Superman's, Batman's cape has always had the habit to open under the arms when he jumps or lands. Maybe they wanted to emulate that without being too obvious using a full cape?

Sharon said...

Right, as you can see back in the blog, I had mentioned that Namor's new costume had "Black Bolt-like membrane wings." I think it's clear that the costume evoked Black Bolt.

But...was Bolt's costume in turn based upon Batman's? Well, over the years many have felt that way, especially given the Batman-like stance of BB on the cover of FF #46(BB's debut)- -the cover of which in turn reminds me of Sub-Mariner #67, the debut of Namor's new costume. Six degrees of separation and all that jazz...:)

Karen said...

DOHHHH!! Sorry Sharon, I was just reading the comments and completely forgot you had mentioned the Blackbolt connection already. I'm 3 posts ahead, thinking about the Vision (who does not have membrane wings, thank goodness)!

Skydragon said...

Don't give Quesada and Bendis any idea for the "all new, all different Vision"!!

Anonymous said...

I love your review and wish you could do more Fantatsic Four reviews from the Silver Age and Bronze Age. I especially find your comments about Sue Storm to be most interesting. You mentioned that Sue seemed very dependent and also whiny during the issues dealing with her separation from Reed Richards. Did any of you ever read the Fantastic Four Page in issue #152? Apparently the FF Bullpen received a flood of letters complaining about Sue and a few even called for them to kill Sue off, one of which they had the courage to print. The implication of it all is that most of the fans seemed to put the blame on Sue for the marital split and not Reed. When you think about it, Reed probably had no choice but to use the gun on Franklin. True, he was not perfect as a husband. Still, it was Sue who decided to walk out and even go to Namor, so perhaps the fans were right in putting most of the blame on Sue?

SK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SK said...

Thanks for the kind words, Anonymous. This blog is basically on hiatus in terms of posts, but you may want to take a look at the blog the other folks have, called BronzeAgeBabies. I'm sure they discuss this period in the FF's history.

I agree with you about Reed--he had no choice. And yes, I have read about the fan backlash against Sue during that time. IMO it was warranted--Sue was insufferable. As I may have mentioned, I would have loved it if Reed and Medusa had hooked up. Medusa was so underutilized during her FF tenure, this would have been a great plot complication.


Anonymous said...

I find your comment about Medusa getting together with Reed fascinating. To be honest, I have often thought that it would have been neat to see Reed dump Sue, back when she walked out on him, and for Reed to then get together with Medusa. It is nice to know that someone else had the same feeling.

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