Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In the last few issues, we’ve seen Stan Lee working to add some genuine human drama to the superhero action, first by detailing Dr. Doom’s emotionally powerful origin, and then by the tragic tale of Sue and Johnny’s father. In issue #33, though, it’s back to wall-to-wall Kirby action with yet another trip to Atlantis.
The undersea action begins (where else?) in Reed’s lab, where he has a giant sea monster on a slab. It’s a newly-discovered form of sea life, he says, that the Coast Guard has given him to study. (This raises a lot of questions about how the Coast Guard operates, but let’s just move on.) The creature normally lives at the darkest depths, but something brought it to the surface.
Elsewhere, a cloaked figure also comes to the surface. It’s Lady Dorma, the long-lost love of Namor the Submariner. She was last seen in FF annual #1, where she and warlord Krang left Namor in exile to lead the Atlanteans to their new home. She’s come to ask the FF’s help. If they don’t come to her aid, she says, Namor will die. Apparently, off-panel, Namor found his lost people and took over once more as their leader. (Krang isn’t mentioned.) Things seem to be going well, until undersea barbarian Attuma shows up, declaring war on Namor. Dorma and Namor had a little lovers’ spat, and so she did a Benedict Arnold (make that a sexy underwater Benedict Arnold) and sold out Namor’s forces to Attuma. Feeling guilt over what she’d done, Dorma traveled to the surface to meet with the FF while Namor’s forces were losing the battle.
Fearing that Attuma will attack the surface world when he’s done with the Atlanteans, Reed agrees to help. He scientifically whips up a convenient “Oxo-spray” for his teammates to breath underwater. This even gives Johnny the power to use his powers in a pocket of oxygen around his skin. (I assume Reed knew there’d be more undersea adventures after their last Namor encounter, so he made this stuff ages ago).
The Four hop aboard their bathysphere (our heroes play Bioshock?) and head into the depths. We get a rare (for this era) full-page splash, with another one of those funky semi-photo illustrations, depicting the ocean floor, complete with goofy-looking fish. Attuma’s forces attack the FF’s ship, and it’s pretty all battle all the time for the rest of the issue.
The bathysphere is destroyed, and the breathing Oxo-spray will only give the FF thirty minutes of breathable air. (You’d think Reed would have mentioned this before they hit the ocean floor.) There’s a weird bit where Reed shapes his body into a giant stingray shape to get everyone across the battlefield. They reunite with Attuma’s forces, using a battering ram on Namor’s encampment. Namor fights back in a big way, trashing the battering ram and sending Attuma’s troops flying. Attuma’s ready for Namor, though, and uses the – are you ready for this one? – “globules of darkness” to blind Namor.
Elsewhere on the front lines, Sue uses her invisibility to do some reconnaissance and sabotage the enemy’s machinery. This frees up Namor to take on Attuma face-to-face, with Namor not even knowing the FF are helping him. He and Attuma duke it out while the FF manage to keep Attuma’s soldiers from interfering. Namor destroys Attuma’s big ol’ sword, but Attuma responds by sprouting a pair of laser beam-firing antennae (sure, why not?). Sue saved Namor’s aquatic bacon by turning him invisible. Namor somehow can’t tell he’s invisible and assumes Attuma has gone mad. Namor fights back and wins the fight.
The breathing devices start to run out of air, and we get two pages of the FF racing back to the surface. After the battle, Namor displays a rare moment of humility by asking for Dorma’s forgiveness.
Unstable molecule: Reed the center of the action for the first half of the issue, leading the journey into the ocean, and then the weird bit where he makes himself into a stingray shape to carry everyone else around.
Fade out: Sue’s power is used for stealth, something I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of. She still admits some feeling for Namor (not out loud, though), but she of course returns to Reed at the end.
Clobberin’ Time: Ben destroys Attuma’s deadly “Ionic ray” without breaking a sweat.
Flame on: Johnny faced with an interesting dilemma in that he can only use flame as sparingly as possible before it goes out underwater. His powers last long enough to save his teammates from an explosive grenade fired by Attuma’s soldiers.
Trivia time: It’s the first appearance of Attuma, obviously, who will go on to become an ongoing problem for Namor and other Marvel characters who visit the murky depths. The Marvel wiki informs me that Attuma’s triple-bladed sword weighs 50 pounds, so there’s that.
Fantastic or frightful? I actually like Attuma a lot. He’s this driven, powerful force. If Aquaman is DC Comic’s King Arthur of Atlantis, then Attuma is the Conan the Barbarian of Atlantis. You could argue that he’s a one-note villain, but that single-mindedness makes him a frightening foe. Add to that some further development in the Namor/Dorma romance and page upon page of big Jack Kirby action, and you’ve got a winner of an issue.
Next issue: “I’m a livin’ doll!”
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