Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue 29 gives us one of the series’ weirder efforts, “It started on Yancy Street.”
The opening caption on the first page states, “Once again we begin one of the most exciting experiences of all… the start of a new FF epic!” Pretty haughty words considering the splash page is our four heroes merely walking down the sidewalk. They’re on Yancy Street, of course, where the jokesters from the Yancy Street Gang have set up a bunch of pranks not just for Ben, but for his teammates as well.
Back at headquarters, the FF debate whether the Yancy Streeters are harmless pranksters or if they are truly evil. Alicia shows up and, out of nowhere, says she wants to break up with Ben. She says she’s not good enough for him, and he says he’s not good enough for her. They immediately reconcile. Ben turns his attention to the FF’s weekly stack of fan mail, only to have one package blow up in his face. The Yancy Street Gang strikes again.
Our heroes return to Yancy street that night, only to be attacked by a gorilla. Sure, why not? The gorilla is joined by a bunch of other apes, each seemingly intelligent and wielding super powers. The fight goes on for several pages before its revealed what diehard fans already deduced: It’s the Red Ghost and his Super Apes, returned with another evil plot in the works. The Red Ghost wants revenge on the FF after they prevented him from claiming ownership of the moon for his Soviet overlords. He’s the one really behind the pranks, to lure the FF out of their building and into his trap.
The apes manage to knock the wind out of the FF long enough for them to be taken hostage. The Red Ghost puts them all on board his personal spaceship, and we’re off to space. Another fight breaks out, but the apes elude the FF. The Red Ghost then strands the four heroes on the surface of the moon, just as they left him. (Khan-ish punishment.) Sue traps some breathable air inside one of her force fields, and the FF make their way to the blue area of the moon, where there’s more air. There, they enter the home of our old space pal the Watcher. He’s not home, but has left a message encouraging Reed and company not to tamper with any of the highly advanced artifacts inside his home. Reed dismisses these warnings, and uses the Watcher’s tech to draw the Red Ghost’s ship back to the moon.
More fighting, and this time the apes aren’t as much of a match. The Red Ghost enters the Watcher’s home, still thinking only of revenge. He aims his weapon at Reed, but is distracted by Sue. Reed then fires up the Watcher’s matter transmitter device and transports the Red Ghost to another universe. With him gone, the apes retreat to their spaceship and fly off. (Guess they are smart. Hope they never saw the Matthew Broderick movie Project X.) The Watcher appears and totally flips out for everyone messing around in his home. He sends the FF back to the Yancy Street, where it all began.
Unstable molecule: Reed gets his mad scientist freak on inside the Watcher’s home, first with an alien device that evolves him to higher life form and back again in seconds, and then by spying on a giant planet shrunk down to tiny size so the Watcher can better observe it.
Fade out: Without Sue’s quick thinking on the surface of the moon, everyone would be dead. She saves the day a second time by distracting the Red Ghost at the end of the fight.
Clobberin’ time: Ben and Alicia’s one-page “break-up then make-up” scene is interesting, but has nothing to do with anything that happens anywhere else in the issue.
Flame on: While everyone else fights the apes, Johnny goes straight for the Red Ghost, stealthily avoiding the Red Ghost’s “electron disintegrator pellet.”
Trivia time: The Red Ghost and his super apes were last seen in the famously silly issue #13. His status as a Russian agent is barely mentioned, instead focusing on mere revenge.
Just what are we to make of the Yancy Street Gang? In recent years, it’s been stated that Ben is originally from Yancy Street, and that their pranks are to remind Ben of where he came from. In this issue, however, the FF fret over not knowing who the Yancy Streeters are.
On the plus side, other continuity nods are a reappearance of the Watcher, the blue area of the moon, and the Watcher’s crazy house there.
This issue has the first of those “trippy photo” panels that comics of this era had a lot of. We’ll be seeing a lot more of these as this re-read continues.
Fantastic or frightful? I get what they’re going for, with a story that starts out in a mundane setting only to get more and more “far out” as it goes along. The Red Ghost is a lot less amusing this time around, and I find it hard to believe that the apes would so easily fight the FF to a standstill not once but twice in a single issue. Good, but not great.
Next week: Let’s all get diabolical!
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