Friday, January 30, 2009

Family Matters: The Fantastic Four's Triumphs and Tribulations, part 5

Part 5 – Marital counseling – Marvel Style

Fantastic Four # 148

July 1974

“War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor!”

Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler, and Joe Sinnott

Doug: Near the end of this story, Gerry Conway refers to this issue as an “interlude”, “a brief respite… between one tempest of emotions and the next”. Boy, would I agree! This story, while OK, just comes at the reader right out of nowhere. Not having read this in many a year, I’d forgotten that this was a part of our little Subby hate-fest!

Karen: I don’t know why this story was in #148. It makes no sense to me. If he wanted to do a Frightful Four story, why not put it in 149? I’d love to know why it was felt necessary to wedge this in between the parts of the Namor story, because it really feels awkward.

Doug: I guess the standout points in the story are the plot gaps. From the splash page on, I have several bones to pick – we don’t know why the FF left Namor’s undersea fortress, we don’t know how the sideplanes on the Fantasticar were restored (Johnny had intentionally wrecked one when attacking Namor), we don’t know how the Frightful Four infiltrated the Baxter Building, and we don’t know why or how Thundra shows up to rescue the FF (even though Reed specifically asked her). So while this book is a fun battle royale between the FF and some classic villains, it seems to be in the way of the greater, more pressing resolution of the Reed/Sue/Franklin/Namor situation.

Karen: Doesn’t it seem weird how Thundra keeps popping up during Conway’s run? Every time she shows up, she makes some statement about how she’s going to eventually beat the crap out of Ben, then helps the FF, and disappears! I wonder if Gerry or Roy really knew where they were going with her.

Sharon: It would have been interesting if the powers that be had developed a Ben-Thundra romance. I get a kick out of Thundra's attraction to, or fascination with, Ben. 

Doug: We’ve mentioned other writers’ “pets” – Englehart’s use of Mantis, etc. Perhaps Thundra was Conway’s pet character.

Doug: I thought the Sandman was done really well in this story. Conway did a pretty good job with the dialogue between ol’ Flint and the Thing. The Trapster and the Wizard, on the other hand – I just can never seem to take these two guys seriously. I just know that it is only a matter of time (and usually a short time) before they get their butts kicked!

Karen: Agreed – Wizard always came across to me as a third-rate Reed, and a whiner to boot. As for Trapster, I could never figure out how a guy with the apparent IQ of a honey dew melon could devise all those gadgets. The only time the Frightful Four seemed like a legitimate threat was when they brainwashed the Thing, which says a lot more about the Thing than it does about these villains.

Sharon: The inclusion of the Frightful Four just seemed like Marvel’s (Roy’s?) calculated way of evoking the “good old days”, back around FF #36: the intro of Frightful Four and Medusa…which led to the Inhumans, Silver Surfer, Black Panther, and so on…the timeframe which many feel were the glory days of the FF.

Doug: The ending 2-page splash with Namor was impressive, and I suppose more so because of the interlude. Maybe this was Conway’s method of allowing not only the team, but the readers, to recharge before the grand finale.

Karen: This issue doesn’t progress the Reed-Sue story at all; it’s basically one long fight scene. It’s a shame; I would have liked to have seen more introspection on the part of our fabulous foursome. Maybe some behind the scenes stuff with Sue and Namor too. All in all, this issue doesn’t have much to recommend it.

Karen: However, there is one thing, completely unrelated to our story, that I wanted to comment on. Near the back of the book is a full page about Marvel Value Stamps, those wonderful and horrible little treats whose removal ruined many a good comic (including so many of yours truly). The article says you could buy a Marvel Value Stampbook for 50 cents. If I can take a nostalgic moment here, I remember getting that stampbook, and the joy my little heart felt as I dutifully cut apart my comics and pasted the stamps in the book. I never did get all 100 though. If you were diligent enough to get all of them, you could get discounts on admission to the New York and San Diego comic conventions. I do recall seeing a photo of Roy Thomas with a group of stampbook completists at some con. Unfortunately though I think that was about all the rewards that were offered. I can’t help but wonder how many books were damaged by those of us seeking our golden ticket.

Doug: Marvel Value Stamps – the bane of many a Bronze-Agers existence! If you would like to further discourse on this and other ‘70’s defeats, I would be happy to engage you in that conversation, Karen! Sounds like a future topic!


Skydragon said...

I'm sure that those who now have mint or near mint copies of these comics are very glad for the existence of the stamps. Without them, there would probably be many more good copies, decreasing each's value ^^
Do you still have the stamps book, Karen? Would be great to see the scans sometimes.

Doug said...

Skydragon --

Good ideas about supply and demand for those Bronze Age goodies! I am not sure if I've seen the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide address this era specifically...

To see all of the Marvel Value Stamps, take a visit to this site:

Have fun!


Karen said...

Sadly, my MVS stampbook disappeared at some point. I probably tossed it during a move. I don't think I had even half the stamps though.

I recall that when it was advertised, there was also a really cool poster you were supposed to get with it - I think it featured a bunch of Marvel heroes. But when I got my book and poster, I got this weird poster that looked like someone photographed an inflatable Spider-Man in front of a black and white cityscape! I wonder if any one has ever seen that poster?

Skydragon said...

It sounds like quite a disappointment by whichever angle one looks at it. I wonder if Marvel sold more comics thanks to people trying to complete their collections.

Thanks for the link Doug, it's a nice website!

PopKulture said...

I was leafing thru a relative bargain of a copy of Hulk 181 some years back at a smaller, area con and discovered the value stamp missing. When I pointed it out to the seller, he was genuinely dejected, so I doubt he even knew it was missing. The exterior of the book was nearly flawless, so I'm sure it would've graded out at 9.2 or better. Even back then, it was a few hundred dollars difference; today, you can consider it at least a two thousand dollar stamp!

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