Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issues 66-67 contain one my personal favorite FF epics, with a lot of action, drama, and sci-fi weirdness – and it introduces, in a way, a major Marvel character.
In the previous issue, there was a cliffhanger in which a mysterious stranger appeared before Alicia, whisking her away to parts unknown. This issue promises answers. We begin in Alicia’s apartment, where Ben, Reed and Sue have found it empty and her door unlocked. Ben says he’s there to explain he had to break their date because the Kree attacked last issue. So… they’re still a couple by this point, or are they estranged? It kind of varies from issue to issue. Ben (somewhat) addresses these questions by wondering if Alicia has met someone else. He then throws another pity party asking why Alicia could ever love a monster like him, and he lashes out at Reed for still not finding a cure. Ben leaves, and Reed admits to Sue that all his attempts to find a permanent cure for Ben has failed.
From there, we go to a crazy-looking building, told that it’s located on the remotest place on Earth (skipping over where, exactly that is), and cannot be reached by any conventional means of travel. Here, the mystery man from last issue arrives with Alicia via a “transport grid.” He’s one of four scientists, Hamilton, Zota, Shinski, and Morlak. This is their Citadel of Science, also called the “Beehive.” Years earlier, they faked their deaths and retreated to the Citadel to create far-out science, away from the world’s prying eyes. Before explaining why they’ve brought here there, the scientists say Alicia must first pass a test. They give her a huge block of clay and demand that she sculpt Morlak. She does that “able-to-tell-what-someone-looks-like-by-touching-his-face” thing, and gets to work on the sculpture. Alicia’s awfully cool with this, going along with all this without much fuss. I guess she’s used to this sort of thing after hanging out with the FF so much.
Back in New York, Ben takes a walk through Central Park, seeing couples in love, and wallowing in more self-pity. A friendly cop is excited to meet Ben, and a bunch of other New Yorkers crowd around, not afraid of Ben’s monstrosity, but delighting in his celebrity. One woman even kisses him on the cheek. “She’d never have kissed a real crum-bum like that!” Ben says. Ben takes off, hoping to apologize to Reed.
Next we check in with Johnny, who’s reuniting with Crystal on the Baxter Building’s rooftop. She’s not happy about him leaving her behind in his car last issue. Johnny plays around with his flames, and Crystal instinctively summons a whirlwind, snuffing out his fire. She then softens, and says she’d never live with herself if she accidentally hurt him. In Reed’s lab, he’s working on a “heat-image tracker,” which he says can generate images of what happened in the recent past by tracking heat signatures in any given area. He wants to use this to find out what happened to Alicia.
In the Citadel, the scientists give Alicia a tour of the place. They say they need her for their experiment because only someone who is blind can interact with “him.” Before they can explain further, there’s an explosion, and “he” is on the loose. Safety hatches are secured, but the scientists fear it is too late. They give Alicia some “vitra-broth” to relax her (!), and then they explain. They’ve come to this place in secrecy to create the perfect human being, one who they hope can be the frontrunner for a new, better, human race. After growing their perfect human in a life-cell chamber, disaster struck. The experiment, still only called “he” broke free and is running loose inside the chamber, trying to escape. Because “he” radiates powerful blinding energy, no one can get a glimpse of what “he” looks like. Therefore, it’s up to the blind Alicia to go into the chamber and create a sculpture of “him” so the scientists can finally see what the perfect human looks like.
Ben returns to Alicia’s apartment, where he finds Reed and Sue already there. Ben freaks out, fearing Alicia is in danger. Reed has the heat tracker set up, but Ben has to set up a screen first, like old home movies, before it can run. They see an image of Hamilton appearing before Alicia, and the two of them disappearing. There’s no sound, so Reed, Ben and Sue are left to guess as to what this means.
In the Citadel, Hamilton leads Alicia into the chamber, which leads to an underground cave. He warns her that the experiment has incredibly dangerous powers. Again, Alicia just goes along with all this, no hesitation. They come across a flaming barrier, which Hamilton says is merely a warning. Back at Alicia’s place, Johnny and Crystal have joined the fun, and Reed says he’s able to recreate the bracelet Hamilton was wearing, which allowed him to teleport. In the cave, Hamilton and Alicia brace themselves, because “he” is coming closer. That’s the cliffhanger that takes us to the next issue.
Issue #67 kicks off in Reed’s lab, with him hard at work in recreating the bracelet, complete with a wall full of wild-looking blueprints. Reed says he’s had to order special parts from Tony Stark, and a delivery man shows up with those parts. They’re tiny micro-dots, called “freckles” By Reed and Ben. Back in the cave, Hamilton leads Alicia farther underground, as he does the speech about how the scientists went too far in tampering with nature. He adds that once they know what “he” looks like, only then can they destroy “him.” Hamilton pulls out a gun and tries to shoot “him,” but “he” is protected behind a molecular wall. Tendrils rise up from the ground and apprehend Hamilton, so Alicia forges ahead, all alone. Meanwhile, the three scientists debate among themselves whether this was the right thing to do, and Shinsky announces he has an alternate plan. He takes them through the Citadel, so we can enjoy the gorgeous Jack Kirby architecture, and then he shows the other scientists a detonator that can blast “him” into outer space.
At the Baxter Building, there’s some romantic comedy shtick with Johnny and Crystal, where he surprises her by toasting bread with his hand, and then planting a kiss on her. Ben and Sue join them, where Sue serves him a huge plate of wheatcakes. (Wheatcakes!) Reed emerges and announces that he’s successfully invented a “bracelet to nowhere.”
Now we get into the really good stuff. Alicia, alone, makes her way through the cave. She hears the voice of “him” goading her forward. “He” senses that Alicia is not evil or destructive as the scientists. She finally reaches “him” to find that “he” has sealed himself up inside a cocoon, undergoing a transformation of some sort. While in the cocoon, “he” is in a weakened and vulnerable state. Alicia says, “I have known another like you – one who is also powerful but who needs compassion and understanding!” She swears not to desert “him” during the transformation.
In Reed’s lab, we get a lot of technobabble about the bracelet and the mirco-dots, which all adds up to Reed, Ben, and Johnny traveling to the Citadel. Reed insists that Sue stay behind, for her safety. The Citadel’s men attack the FF, and we get a page of our heroes showing off their powers as they mop the floor with these guys.
Underground, Hamilton escapes and charges forward, still hoping to kill “him.” Alicia pleads with Hamilton for mercy, but Hamilton says the scientists hoped to control “him” for his power. If “he” can’t be controlled, then “he” must be destroyed. Hamilton further admits that he hoped to use “his” powers to rule the world. From within the cocoon, “he” can sense what’s happening and fires an energy blast at Hamilton. “He” begins to emerge from the cocoon.
Ben intimidates one of the Citadel’s goons into telling them where Alicia is, and the FF are off to the rescue. In the cave, there are more energy bursts, and Hamilton has a change of heart, expressing regret over what he’s done and taking a shot to protect Alicia. He gets crushed by rubble and dies (dang!) and Alicia fears she’ll be next. But then, Ben is right there to take her up in his arms. “He” breaks free from the cocoon and flies off. We still don’t get a look at him, as he’s covered by those awesome Kirby dots.
The scientists press the detonator, but nothing happens. Turns out “he” was reading their minds the whole time and shut off the detonator with the power of “his” mind. The FF use the bracelet to escape back home, leaving the scientists and their henchmen to their fates. “He” emerges from the crackling energy, and we finally get to see him. He’s a golden, musclebound blonde guy – kinda looks like Rocky from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “He” announces that he will leave the Earth, and not return for another millennia. In the process of leaving, he summons enough energy to destroy the entire citadel, seemingly killing everyone inside. (Dang again!) “He” says that mankind will never know the evil “he” saved it from.
Unstable molecule: Reed does the CSI thing, recreating the high-tech bracelet, complete with wonky micro-dots, to find Alicia.
Fade out: Sue being left behind during all the action, which seems unfortunate, except that next week, we’ll learn more about why.
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s confrontation with the ordinary folks who like him instead of act afraid of him is a real highlight, showing how much things have changed since the book’s early days. He later smashes stuff up real good during the attack on the citadel.
Flame on: For the first time, it feels like Johnny and Alicia have a real relationship of sorts, instead of just achingly longing for each other.
Commercial break: This house ad for Marvel’s Not Brand Ecch pokes fun at Batman and Robin, and even Magnus: Robot Fighter! Not Brand Ecch was one of Marvel’s attempts to cash in on the success of Mad magazine over the years.
Trivia time: You wouldn’t know it from this issue, but in short time “he” would return and be transformed into Adam Warlock, a pivotal character in most Marvel “cosmic” stories. The scientists survived, later getting a proper supervillain name, the Enclave. They’ve had all kinds of whacked-out adventures in the Marvel universe, generating more cocoons, giving themselves super powers, and creating a sister for Adam Warlock named Kismet.
According to never-wrong internet rumors, these issues were a big source of conflict between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Jack wanted the Enclave to be noble scientists who made a mistake, but Stan scripted them and megalomaniacal evil. It’s kind of both, with the four of them disagreeing with each other, and Hamilton becoming a good guy in his final moments.
About the wheatcakes. In Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, there’s a funny bit where Aunt May serves Peter Parker wheatcakes for breakfast, and he says they’re his favorite. “Wheatcakes” has since become a little inside joke among comic fans. Ben chomping down on the wheatcakes in this issue makes me wonder if Stan and Jack were already in on the joke back in 1967.
Fantastic or frightful? I really like these two issues. This is pulp sci-fi in the best way. Sure, the excuse for getting Alicia into this mess is silly, but once she’s down there in that cave with “him,” it’s really powerful stuff. Fun comics all around.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.