Fantastic Friday: In the arena

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s issue #93, which came out in December 1969. It’s the end of the 1960s, and it’s the unofficial end of Jack Kirby’s time on the FF. Sure, he’ll be around for a few more issues, but most experts agree that this arc was the last time he gave a damn. Anyway, to recap: Skrulls who live as old-timey gangsters kidnapped Ben and are forcing him to fight in gladiatorial games.

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We begin in space, where the FF is flying along in their Skrull flying saucer which they happen to own, searching for a trail to lead to Ben. Johnny, it’s worth noting, is flying outside of the ship with his flame burning, with absolutely no mention of how he can do this in the vacuum of space. (Remember that way back in issue #6, Ben and Namor needed special helmets to breathe in space.) Our heroes find a radioactive trail which Reed deduces leads to Ben’s abductors.

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On the Skrull planet, Ben and his opponent, the robotic Torgo (not the Manos Torgo, sadly) are finally put into the ring. They’re told they must fight to the death. Ben continues to try to convince Torgo to escape, but Torgo is resigned to his fate. He punches Ben real good. Ben’s strength, however, stands up to Torgo’s blows, and Torgo says Ben is the mightiest opponent he’s ever faced. The Skrulls insist that they keep fighting or else their homeworlds will be destroyed by sonic rays. Then there’s a bit of business where somebody throws a bomb into the ring, which knocks Ben back. Torgo is about to strike the final blow, but the Skrulls won’t have it, saying Ben was defeated by the bomb, not by Torgo.

While the aliens/gangsters argue about the rules, Ben finally fights back, punching Torgo. The computer, which I guess is keeping score somehow, determines that the fight’s outcome is voided. Now, they have to start the fight over. (How that’s different from just keeping on fighting, I don’t know.)

The FF arrives at the Skrull planet, and a Skrull ship flies out to intercept them. Johnny envelops the alien’s ship in a “sub-nova heat blanket.” This knocks out the Skrull. As the FF invade his ship, Reed says they’ll learn where Ben is once he comes to.

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Torgo and Ben have been given some weird-looking alien weapons that kind of look like big bottle openers, and they continue to fight. Despite all that’s happened, Ben is still arguing that they should work together to escape, but Torgo still believes that they have no choice but to keep on fighting. Ben refuses to go the distance and kill Torgo. Torgo then reveals that the weapons are also gas guns (!) and he blasts Ben with knockout gas. This makes Ben vulnerable to Torgo’s final blow. In the stands, the Skrulls/gangsters once again argue whether these weapons are allowed in the rules (they really should have gone over these rules before the fight started).

Elsewhere, one of the gangsters’ henchmen is reported about the fight on the phone, when he’s approached by Reed, now in a full-on gangster outfit. He says he’s with “Reed Richards’ gang” and he demands to be taken to the fight. They hop in a car, where Johnny and Crystal are also in their best Untouchables-era finery. Lest we forget that this is an alien gangster planet, it’s a flying car.

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At the arena, Ben’s message finally sinks in, and Torgo says he cannot kill one who has shown him mercy. The Skrulls prepare to fire up the sonic disrupter, but a blast of energy comes out of nowhere and destroys it. The blast came from Crystal, arriving in the nick of time with Reed and Johnny. Ben is so happy to see his friends that he does the old “I must have got something in my eye” gag.

No time for sentiment for Torgo, however, as he frees all the slaves, and they all bring the fight to their Skrull overlords. The FF escape in the commotion, and flee the planet. Ben wonders who Torgo was, and hopes his former cellmate will succeed in the fight for freedom.

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Unstable molecule: Note that Reed’s gangster suit isn’t made of unstable molecules. When he stretches his arm, the suit doesn’t stretch with it. Nice detail, there.

Clobberin’ time: Although he’s the one so often quick to fight, Ben’s underlying humanity is the showcase in this issue, as the real fight isn’t in the gladiator ring — it’s the fight to become a better man.

Flame on: Still not sure how Johnny can fly around in space like that. Not even one line of dialogue explaining that he’s protected by a portable energy field or some crap?

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal is totally badass when she destroys the sonic world-killing machine.

Commercial break: If you know your comics history, you know about the controversies surrounding these light tables, yet here’s an ad for one — in a comic!

Trivia time: According to the Marvel Wiki, the Skrull gangsters Boss Barker and Lippy Louie were never seen again after this arc, and are presumed dead after the revolution in this issue. If anyone from Marvel is reading this, I dare you to bring these two back.

Fantastic or frightful? If all the rumors are true and this was Jack Kirby’s last genuine work on the FF, then it’s a good one for him to go out on. Many have speculated that the Thing’s personality was basically Kirby’s personality, and here we get to the heart of what Ben is all about. But it’s not over! Kirby is still with us for the next few issues, and there’ll be more to talk about.

 Next week: Season of the witch.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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