Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #41 starts right where the last one left off, with the Thing declaring that he’s leaving the team. This is hardly the first time one of the group has been at odds with the others. Remember, Johnny temporarily quit the team way back in issue #3. But this issue promises BETRAYAL in big letters, so let’s see what happens.
Johnny flies around Ben to keep him from leaving, but the Baxter Building’s automatic sprinklers put his flame (so why doesn’t this happen every time he uses his powers?). Ben departs after smashing up a wall. Outside, Ben hides in the back of some guy’s pickup truck and falls asleep. The truck drives to New Jersey, after which a mysterious force lifts him into the air, and carries him to a mansion outside the city (no one notices this?).
Back at HQ, the landlord complains about all the damage done to the building during the previous issue’s battle (I imagine he does this a lot), and we get the requisite couple of pages where the characters show off their powers as they clean up and make repairs. Alicia arrives, and Reed is forced to break the bad news to her, that Ben has left the team.
At the mysterious mansion, we learn that Frightful Four – Medusa, the Wizard, Sandman, and Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster – have abducted the still-unconscious Ben. We get a requisite couple of pages of them showing off their powers as they fight among themselves. Medusa appears to have taken the leadership role among the group, bossing them around. They ominously state they’re going to hook Ben up to an “ID machine.”
Reed, meanwhile, does the guilt trip thing, blaming himself for Ben leaving. “As leader of the F.F., I’m responsible for everything!” he says. Johnny gets a tip that Ben was spotted in Jersey, and Reed and Sue take off in search of him. Five miles away, according to the caption, the Wizard attaches the ID machine to Ben. He says the machine reverts the human mind back to its most evil, primitive instincts. (I’m not sure how primitive instincts are automatically evil, but this is mad science we’re dealing with.) The Trapster discovers Medusa and Sandman having a game of poker (!) and he suggests that there’s something romantic happening between them. Sandman seems to confirm this, saying “I like dames who play rough.” Classy. Jealous, the Trapster starts a fight with the two of them, but it’s broken up by the Thing, who is now under the Wizard’s control. Shockingly, Ben rips out some of Medusa’s hair, which knocks her out. The Wizard declares himself to be leader of the team again.
The FF fire a signal flare nearby, and the Frightful Four see it. Then there’s an odd jump where Reed and Sue are joined by Johnny, right outside the Frightful Four’s mansion. Apparently, they’ve been going door to door, and now they’re conveniently at the right house? Anyway, the bad guys attack, and it’s time for several pages of fighting. The villains are no match for our heroes, until Ben shows up. Sue and Reed pull their punches, but Ben doesn’t, and he knocks them both out. Ben uses the Sandman’s sand to douse Johnny’s flame and then knock Johnny out as well.
The Trapster devises several traps to keep the FF from fighting back – Johnny is affixed with a sprinkler vest that will douse his flame if he tries to use it, Sue is sealed up in a giant plastic bag that can stretch to any shape, and Reed is glued in place with the Trapster’s famous super-paste. The Wizard, who is worried about Medusa taking leadership away from him again, puts Ben to sleep with his super-hypnotism.
Then we get several pages of the Frightful Four debating what to do with Ben. Sandman wants to kill him, while the Wizard wants to continue using him against their enemies. Medusa has a moment of compassion for Reed, feeling bad for him “I must not become weak and feminine at a time like this!” she thinks. When Ben wakes, the Wizard gives him a big speech about how Ben’s monstrous face is all Reed’s fault. Ben buys it. Reed wakes, still unable to move because of the paste, and tries to talk some sense into Ben, but it’s too late. Ben declares, “I’ll do to you what you did to me!” And… to be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed’s need for control and his guilt trip over Ben both speak to his ongoing character development, something we’ll get a bigger dose of as we get closer and closer to the big issues #49-51.
Fade out: Sue shows how tough she really is during the fight, using her force fields to take out three of the Frightful Four before the Wizard unleashes Ben.
Clobberin’ time: Ben spends most of the issue asleep or under the Wizard’s power, but there’s a telling scene at the beginning, where he roams the streets of the city, alone. He ponders Reed and Sue’s engagement, and all of Johnny’s girlfriends and sports cars, and he wallows as to he’ll never have that because he’s just a monster. This is some real human drama amid all the melodrama.
Flame on: Johnny does very little in this issue. Between water and sand, it seems like any time he starts to use his flame, someone’s right there to douse it. His car, however…
Trivia time: One page shows Johnny’s latest hot rod, an “S.S. Excalibur Racer.” This appears to be the 1964 Excalibur S.S., made by Studebaker. They went for $100,000 each, which was insane money in the mid-1960s.
Fantastic or frightful: Here we begin to see what will later be called “decompressed storytelling.” By stretching this story out over several issues, we get longer fight scenes, and more character interaction. This is a different feel than the packed-with-plot early issues. A lot of it is build-up for the next two chapters – that’s right, two more chapters to go.
Next week: Everybody fight!
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