Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re still marching through the death march of comics that is the “middle years,” after Jack Kirby but before John Byrne.
Issue #171: To recap, Ben is human again, but still fights the bad guys by wearing a super-strong Thing suit that Reed invented. There are several pages of excuse-for-the-characters-to-use-their-powers inside the FF’s new danger room. Johnny, meanwhile, is still dating Frankie Raye. He says he’s leaving the FF for her, because she gets freaked out around superhero types. Then, a strange craft lands nearby and a giant golden gorilla (!) comes out of it. Johnny wants to fly off and fight it, but decides to stay with Frankie and let the cops handle the monster.
The gorilla grows to giant size and (of course) climbs up the building, abducts Sue (sigh…) and rampages on its roof. Reed and Ben try to fight the giant ape, but are outmatched. Johnny can’t take it anymore, so he flies off to help his teammates, upsetting Frankie. Sue uses an “infinitesimal force field” to escape from the Gorilla’s grasp. Sue’s force field then manages to shrink the ape down to its original size, allowing the FF to capture it. It then speaks, saying it’s name is Gorr. Gorr has come to Earth to warn everyone that Galactus is on the way.
Issue #172: Gorr says he attacked only because the Earth’s atmosphere made him panic. He nonetheless attacks the FF again, escapes the Baxter Building, and returns to his ship. The FF pursue him into the ship, which then takes off with them inside of it. Gorr explains that he is originally from Counter-Earth, a second Earth populated by animal-men created by the High Evolutionary. The Asgardian Destroyer, who during this time was Galactus’ herald, discovered the existence of Counter-Earth. Gorr was sent to Earth to bring the FF back, because they’ve defeated Galactus in the past.
The High Evolutionary attacks the Destroyer, and Ben, whose exoskeleton doubles as a space suit, joins the fight. Ben defeats the Destroyer, but it’s too late, because Galactus arrives.
Issue #173: Ben tries to fight Galactus, but get swatted down. Galactus communicates with Reed and the High Evolutionary via mental telepathy. Reed and the H.E. try to appeal to Galactus’ good nature, saying there are millions of lives of Counter-Earth, but Galactus says he has a different perspective, and that it’s his “destiny” to devour entire worlds. H.E. says there are two other planets that might satiate Galactus in place of Counter-Earth, so he sends the heroes off to investigate them.
Reed and Ben end up on the planet Mekka, a world populated with robots, led by Torgo. That’s not the goat-kneed goofball from Manos: The Hands of Fate, it’s the robot from the Skrull gangster planet from Fantastic Four #91-93. Reed and Ben agree not to sacrifice the planet, but the robots take them captive anyway, for fear that Galactus will discover their location through them. Johnny and Gorr, meanwhile, end up on a dragons-and-knights fantasy world, where they too are taken captive. The High Evolutionary won’t teleport Sue to the planets to rescue her teammates, saying instead he must fight Galactus one-on-one.
Issue #174: Sue uses invisibility to escape the High Evolutionary, but accidentally teleports herself to a lifeless planet, where she’s not able to rescue anyone. On the robot planet, Torgo makes a big speech about organic life versus mechanical life. Reed and Ben manage to fight back, with several pages of Ben and Torgo wailing on each other. Torgo finally agrees to accept Ben and Reed’s promise, and he lets them go.
On the magic and dragons planet, Johnny and Gorr are locked up in a dungeon, and Gorr offers to challenge the planet’s best knight in combat. They suit him up in armor for a jousting tournament. (That’s right — it’s an armor-clad jousting yellow gorilla!) He wins, but then all the wizards and knights and whatnots reveal themselves to be shape-shifting Skrulls. Just like they once had an all-gangster planet, this is their all medieval fantasy planet. The Skrulls then declare that this is a dead planet. They leave, and Johnny says there’s not enough there for Galactus to consume. Galactus arrives on Counter-Earth, and the High Evolutionary challenges him to battle.
Issue #175: Galactus and the High Evolutionary (who is now several stories tall — I guess he has growth powers) confront each other in the skies over Counter-Earth. The H.E. puts up a good fight, but is knocked out by Galactus. Galactus starts building his world-devouring machine (the one we all remember from issues #49-51) when the reunited FF appear and fight him. Then Sue arrives with a message for Galactus from another world. This world is offering itself to Galactus in place of one full of innocent lives.
Galactus devours the entire world, which is covered with aliens acting like they have no idea they’re about to die. But then something goes wrong, and Galactus shrinks down a tiny form, until there’s nothing left but a brain, and then nothing at all. The High Evolutionary decrees that the menace of Galactus is over forever. Reed then figures out that Sue is not Sue, she’s the Impossible Man in disguise! The Impossible Man’s people, the Poppupians, have evolved to a collected consciousness, so their entire society exists within the Impossible Man. Galatcus devouring the Poppup planet was like swallowing a lot of hot air, or, as Reed puts it, “terminal indigestion.” Gorr stays behind on Counter-Earth, but the Impossible Man follows the FF back to Earth. On the way home, and without much ceremony, Ben transforms back into the Thing, as a result of exposure to Galactus’ energy. When asked if Ben can be cured, Reed answers only with silence.
Issue #176: Ben grouses about being a monster again, while the Impossible Man does a lot of comedy shtick. Upon returning to Earth, the FF’s ship is about to crash, but Johnny saves the day by creating a heat updraft. There’s more comedy shtick as the FF make their way through New York City to get home, with Impossible Man goofing off the whole time.
Then things get really meta when Impossible Man visits the Marvel Comics offices. Stan Lee is panicking because the FF have been off-planet, so Marvel has no new stories about them for their comics. The other Marvel artists and writers, including Jack Kirby, suggest making up stories, but Stan won’t have it. The Impossible Man offers help, but the Marvel folks say readers don’t like him because he’s too silly. Impossible Man starts trashing the place, and the FF show up to stop him. They take Impossible Man back to the Baxter Building, only to discover the Frightful Four are there, waiting for them.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed is still losing his powers, and he reveals to Ben that he can no longer stretch his right arm. This subplot has been slowly building for about 20 issues now.
Fade out: When the boys go off adventuring, Sue is left behind again. This time, though, Reed says it because she’s so powerful that only she can be relied on to rescue them all if something goes wrong.
Clobberin’ time: Ben transformation from human back into a monster happens without much drama. Everybody’s all, “Well, everything’s back like it was now.”
Flame on: Johnny doesn’t seem all that serious about retiring from the team to be with Frankie, considering he leaves her twice to do the superhero thing. During the battle, his super-hot nova flame has little effect on Galactus.
Commercial break: We’re supposed to think the Hulk got his awesome strength from those little weights?
Trivia time: The High Evolutionary and his Counter-Earth were a big deal in Thor and Hulk comics, which dealt with the whole concept of Counter-Earth in greater detail.
Allegedly, the giant ape Gorr was created to cash in on the 1976 King Kong remake.
The Destroyer became a herald of Galactus in Thor #228, which was also the first appearance of Firelord. After this appearance, Loki goes ahead and steals the Destroyer back from Galactus for more fighting with Thor.
Jack Kirby appears in the Marvel Bullpen, because he had returned to Marvel by 1976, drawing “out there” comics like Eternals and 2001.
Fantastic or Frightful? How much fun is Gorr? Once he starts talking, he’s like a comedic version of the Beast from the X-Men. Marvel should totally bring back Gorr and have him pal around with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Having the High Evolutionary, who creates planets, battle Galactus, who destroys planets, seems like a good idea, but it’s a lot of buildup to nothing. Impossible Man is just silly, of course. I guess we’ll have to file this batch of issues under “mixed bag.”
Next week: Fruit Brute! (But without the fruit.)
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.