Friday, February 6, 2009

Family Matters: The Fantastic Four's Triumphs and Tribulations, part 6

Part 6 – Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Fantastic Four # 149
August 1974

“To Love, Honor, and Destroy!”

Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler, and Joe Sinnott

Doug: What a great splash page! As we go through these issues, I find Rich Buckler to be either home run or so-so. I really think this splash, with its triangular orientation of figures, the dynamic poses, and the intensity of Namor’s posture to be fine rendering. Sue looks good, the lackey looks menacing, and you just can’t beat a good ol’ battle cry: Imperius Rex!

Doug: Hmmm… about Page 2. Reed’s in character – tense, willing to fight (although as my colleagues have argued in prior postings, is it “too little, too late”?), Ben’s for the most part in character… but something about Johnny’s take throughout this has bothered me. I have wondered where the “blood is thicker than water” instinct is. To me, Johnny should have remained loyal to Sue. I understand why Ben has stuck with Reed, and Medusa is caught in the middle but with her loyalty being toward service to the team. Johnny just seems a little dense in regard to the magnitude of the decision Reed made about Franklin.

Karen: Well, Johnny’s always been a bit dense, hasn’t he? What really creeped me out was his thought in the previous issue, about a sister being “almost as close as a wife”. Uck.

Doug: Medusa using a little of that “woman’s intuition”? What did you think about her line that Namor has never been vicious? Hel-lo!! Ever read any Golden Age books, Sweetie?

Karen: The whole thing with Medusa is odd, until the reveal at the end. This picks up on the Medusa-Torch story from a few issues back, where they were going to the Hidden Land, because Blackbolt had called for her - hmm, they never did get to Attilan. Geez, Conway really did drop a lot of plot threads!

Sharon: Let me get this straight—back in FF#145, Reed tells Medusa he received a message for her from Black Bolt about a “Project Revival.” In light of the reveal in #149, it seems like the mention in #145 was supposed to be a signal to her that this plan is being set in motion. So why does she act like she’s all of a sudden figuring things out in #149?

Sharon: And if “Project Revival” was a really plan to get Sue and Namor back together, why did Reed tell her Black Bolt wanted her back in Attilan, and why did she go through the trouble of dragging Johnny along with her? And then after the mayhem that ensued (in #145 and #146), their trip to Attilan was then dropped—so poor Johnny didn’t get to see his beloved Crystal before her wedding after all. It appears Stan was not the only one with the faulty memory back then, eh, Roy Thomas (editor) and Gerry Conway (writer)?

Doug: As the battle begins, I’m thinking of that mid-80’s series Damage Control. When these super-powered types get after it, there is a lot of destruction that takes place! And how about the taxpayer bill, for the police, etc.?

Karen: Apparently folks like Blackbolt and Namor don’t concern themselves over such things – I mean, why have Sue and Reed sit down and talk when you can destroy half the city instead?

Doug: “Sue’s force field – It appeared so suddenly, there was no time to swerve away!” Umm… appeared?

Karen: Reed must have had his special invisibility detecting glasses on….

Doug: I thought Ben’s trip down memory lane was well-crafted and a very nice addition to the story. Sometimes I don’t care for flashbacks – seems they just take up space. But this fits perfectly, and Buckler’s art reflects an early Silver Age feel during these panels.

Sharon: Buckler does a nice job here recreating the Kirby scenes from FF #4—an instance in which swiping is appropriate and is, in fact, expected.

Doug: There are some really outstanding splashes and two-page splashes in this little arc.

Doug: As for the battle, I became aware that most of the fighting was mano a mano – not a lot of property destruction. It began to seem like something was amiss. Although no one on the FF’s side ever spoke of Namor pulling his punches, I just had to wonder what was really going on.

Doug: The conversation between Ben and Sue was great – in my opinion, this type of writing is lacking in many of today’s comics. These panels conveyed a history between these two characters, a depth of emotion that seemed real. Today’s comics often just run from battle to battle with a cheesecake shot in between with no real concern for character development.

Karen: I’d agree that I’d like more interaction between characters in today’s team books, but honestly, Sue’s reaction to Ben’s comments just seemed a little too convenient. She’s felt that Reed is distant and neglectful, but because he’s willing to fight over her, suddenly she’s back in love with him? Then again, people are unpredictable emotionally. So I’ll let it pass.

Doug: The big reveal at the end was a nice surprise, although I did feel that Medusa’s role in it remained unclear and somewhat clumsily handled. It was good to see Triton, and the proximity of this story to the coming wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver seemed to dovetail nicely.

Karen: Yes, the whole Project Revival idea here (with the Inhumans and Namor teaming up to get Reed and Sue back together) seems about half-baked. Namor in particular seems out of character. It feels like Conway didn’t have a good idea of how to achieve the couple’s reconciliation, so he just threw in a big fight and poof! They love each other again.

Doug: Overall, this last arc was a fun, sentimental read. Looking at it in a short timeframe, I’m still uncertain as to why Conway chose to insert the Frightful Four fight in between the stories in #147 and #149 – perhaps that was the only vehicle he could think of to get Thundra into #149? And she proved indispensable to the events concluding this issue, as Conway chose Ben to be the one to reason with Sue – someone had to occupy Namor so that Ben could steal away.

Doug: As to an impression of this entire series, it has really been a nice trip through Marvel history, and is a summation of why Marvel has for years been (in my opinion) so far ahead of DC. Marvel took the time to craft an inter-related universe with “real” characters – people with feelings, emotions of pride and resentment, and life events that occur in the everyday world.

Karen: It seems to me that the Reed – Sue breakup started out pretty well, but sort of fell apart here at the end. The early issues (even before the ones we reviewed) gave good reasons why the split occurred –particularly after Reed zapped Franklin. But these later issues never truly felt solid; they seemed to be poorly developed. While attempting this type of subject matter was laudable, the execution of the story was lacking.

Karen: And speaking of Franklin – where the heck was he all this time? Sitting inside Namor’s ‘Tomazooma’ fortress? I’m surprised Sue would let him out of her sight!

Sharon: Maybe she made him invisible, to keep him out of harm’s way? ;)


Skydragon said...

I went to re-read the story, and agree that the ending is a bit disappointing. Sue's behaviour in particular strikes me as lacking consistency. She didn't leave Reed because he wasn't there for her, or because he wouldn't fight for her, but for what happened with Franklyn, so now it's a bit too easy for her to suddenly fall in love again.

Regarding Namor, his actions are unusual, but at the time they would occasionally show a new side from a character. This is very much unlike today, when characters are either frozen in an unmoving old characterization, or behave strangely all of a sudden.
JJJ comes to mind. In the Lee era, despite his hate for Spidey, he would only publish what he saw as the truth, and grudgingly retreat after being proven wrong. In the story where his son get's superpowers for the first time, he even tries to stop him from going after Spider-Man, because there was a possibility he was innocent. Now he often fabricates news out of nothing, publishing them even when he knows they are false.

So I suppose this type of "honor between rival lovers", while new, is understandable from Namor. He certainly isn't a sly or viscid character.

Karen said...

Regarding Sue, it really seems like maybe Conway was tired of the whole separation and couldn't figure out a logical way to get Reed and Sue back together, so he just contrived this ending. Sue comes across very fickle (IMO).

I didn't realize that the Marvel writers had changed JJJ so much. Like you said, he was a jerk but he had a conscience. I'm sorry to see that go. Just another reason I spend most of my time in the 60s and 70s!!

Skydragon said...

Poor JJJ only had a handful of really good stories over the years as far as I know. Stan did a very good job in explaining his hate for Spider-Man in the original Enforcers story, but ever since most writers were happy to stick and expand only his jerk side.

Maybe one day the dynamic trio should make a post on JJJ through the years! :D

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