Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Things get serious in issue #21, in a tale of bigotry run amok, with one crazy surprise ending.
The issue begins with the four hanging out in HQ, which interrupted by what appears to be an earthquake, but no, it’s just Ben, clobbering a giant, high-tech punching bag. He’s upset because of a new type of fiend making headlines – the Hate Monger. The FF are helpless to stop this guy, simply because he’s not breaking any laws, just delivering speeches and getting people riled up.
While out and about in the city, the FF stumble upon one of the Hate Monger’s rallies, where he whips the crowd into a frenzy about wanting to drive foreigners out of their neighborhoods. Ben stops the riot by squashing the crowd underneath the bandstand (How was no one killed?) The Hate Monger responds by zapping the FF with his “H-Ray.” The FF then spend several pages fighting each other, forgetting all about the Hate Monger. They’re so incensed with one another that they go their four separate ways.
Reed returns to the Baxter Building to find Nick Fury duking it out with building security. Fury wants Reed’s help to quell political unrest in the formerly peaceful country of San Gusto. Reed says he’s on it, and takes off. Fury can tell something’s off with Reed. From around the city, Ben, Johnny and Sue see Reed taking off in the team’s pogo plane, and return to HQ, demanding an explanation. Fury fills them in, and uses a little reverse psychology to get them to head to San Gusto as well. They do, as the team’s personal ICBM makes another appearance.
The Hate Monger pursues with his henchmen in a sub-surface missile. An editor’s note then tells us, “This machine is not as imaginary as it may seem! It’s reported that even now the Russians are working on a similar vehicle, powered by the reverse thrust of a rocket engine!”
In San Gusto, Reed thwarts the efforts of the rebels, blowing up their ammunition, stealing their guns and rockets, and so on. He finds an underground passage, which blasts him with nerve gas, making him the Hate Monger’s prisoner. Hate Monger explains that his H-Ray can be bounced off the surface of the moon to hit anywhere on earth. Once he controls all the haters, he says, he will control the earth. Fury shows up with a machine gun and shoots up the place, forcing Hate Monger to surrender and give Reed the antidote to the H-ray. He then escapes behind some bulletproof glass. It’s a few more pages of the FF fighting each other, as Reed manages to trick each of them into taking the antidote.
At the dynamo that fuels the planetary H-Ray, Fury is attacking, but is almost out of ammo. Once his gun is empty, he fights back with his fists, referencing his time among the Howlin’ Commandos. The FF rescue him. The Hate Monger is about to fire another H-Ray blast at the FF, but Sue, while invisible, deflects his aim, and the ray hits HM’s hencmen, who turn against him. He’s shot (Dead!). Johnny and Sue round up the henchmen while Reed and Fury unmask the Hate Monger.
Ready for this twist ending? Hate Monger is really… Adolph Hitler in disguise!!! Although Reed does speculate that maybe it’s not Hitler but a Hitler lookalike. Either way, the H-ray is defeated. As the FF return home, Reed says, “Until men truly love each other, regardless of race, creed, or color, the Hate Monger will still be undefeated! Let’s never forget that!”
Unstable molecule: Reed does a lot with his powers in this issue, using his body like a giant slingshot again, stretching his arms up into the sky to swipe missiles off of passing planes, and contorting his body deep into the ground in the shape of a plant’s roots to find the underground hideout.
Fade out: Sue gets a great hero moment when she’s the one who defeats the HM at the end. There’s also a funny bit early on where she tries on wigs, wanting to look like Liz Taylor in Cleopatra.
Clobbering time: Ben doesn’t do much in this issue, practically disappearing once everyone reaches San Gusto. He gets in some slapstick in the fight against Reed by tying Reed’s arms into knots.
Flame on: Likewise, Johnny doesn’t do much except fight with the others. His business at the beginning of the story is him throwing flaming darts at a picture of Spider-Man.
Trivia Time: Folks who’ve only seen the Avengers movie might be surprised to learn Nick Fury was originally a white dude, but I’m more surprised to see this is a pre-eyepatch version of Fury. I always thought that was a 1960s addition. From what I’ve been able to tell, the eyepatch was introduced shortly after this. Here, Fury is CIA agent, with no mention of SHIELD. Also, Reed and Ben are still WWII vets at this point in the series, and Reed mentions having fought alongside Fury in the big one. This is how they know each other.
Fantastic or Frightful: Here the book attempts to tackle important social issues (in this case, racism) with mixed results. The depictions of “bigotry” are cartoonish and the plot twist is way too on-the-nose. But there’s a lot of fun to be had, too. Fury, as written by Stan Lee, is a fun character, totally badass but also a wisecracker. It makes me wonder what Stan’s take on Wolverine would have been like.
Next week: That’s not Hans, Moleman.
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