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September 20, 2007

Comments

Clark

Short time reader, first time poster.

This cover made me think of FF #1 where Reed has ropes around him but no one to have put them there.

My eyes were drawn to Johnny in a net.
Who threw it?
Why wouldn't it be burning?

Mark Engblom

Hi Clark! Thanks for stopping by.

The net was thrown by Namor himself, which was made entirely of a substance called "asbestos", which is highly resistant to flame...hence Johnny's difficulty in getting out.

Brian Disco Snell

Mark, that was one of the very first comics I ever read...at least that I have any memory of reading. I must have pawed through that thing a thousand times. Other things that impressed my wee 10-year-old-mind:

1)You could tell I didn't know much about the FF or Namor, as I kept thinking "Who's that guy who looks so much like Spock?"

2)Johnny's red costume. Even as an ignorant lad I thought it looked stupid and didn't even fit in with the rest.

Things of note upon re-reading as an "adult":
1) Fully one half of the letters page is an apology from Stan and Roy for raising price 5ยข, to a quarter. Wouldn't see that today...

2) The entire story is premised upon Ebert's "Idiot Plot," wherein the whole issue would be over in 5 seconds if anyone uttered just a few syllables to actually explain what they were doing.

3) The "cliff-hanger" ending (which didn't resolve until #149, actually...jerks). Years later, when I finally tracked it down...grrr. Let's just say that it is possibly the worst monent in FF history, the most sexist, the most unbelievable and ridiculous, the most destructive to any sense of respect for the characters EVER!!!! But, well, that's Gerry Conway for you...

Mark Engblom

Brian-

1. Well, you could probably place the Sub-Mariner at the exact opposite end of the emotional spectrum from Spock...so that must have been doubly confusing to see a seething mad "Spock".

2. Blame that on Roy "Golden Age" Thomas. They guy was so infatuated with All Things Golden Age, I think he may have been trying to evoke the all-red costume of the original WWII era Human Torch. Frankly, I didn't mind the red costume. It was during Johnny's "Leave me alone, MAN!" phase of greater independence. I think we all go through a "red human torch costume" phase at one time or another, don't we?

1. Yeah, I love those old "We're sorry to raise the prices!" pieces they would write. You get the feeling they were genuinely embarrassed. Today? We find out when we get the new Previews catalog.

2. Well, in this case, Namor's attack was arranged between he and Triton (of the Inhumans) and unknown to everyone on the F.F.

3. You're sending out some subtle vibes that you didn't like the way the story wrapped up. Truthfully, it's one of my all-time favorite F.F. stories. I'm not sure what you're seeing as "sexist"... Sue was a pretty hard-edged personality throughout...and when she and Reed got back together again, it felt natural and not humiliating to either one of them. Oh well....potato, poTAto.

Brian Disco Snell

Well, I'm not a big fan of the Gerry Conway run, and this issue was particualrly hard for me to swallow (although I'll confess that part of it was enormous backlash after years of loving #147 and then finding #149 so crushingly not to my liking).

Perhaps I'm judging too harshly by modern lights, but having a plan that consists of Namor pretending to love Sue and pretending to want to destroy New York and the surface world, as a pretext to convincing Sue that she wasn't really in love with Namor but rather was still in love with Reed, sounds like something they came up with (and rejected) for Gilligan's Island. Maybe it made sense in 1974...And why, exactly, was Triton needed for this fiendishly clever plot? He serves no purpose at all.

But Sue...she's treated (like many female characters of the era) as a silly emotional weather vane. Granted, she was going through a rough time, what with Reed having shut off Franklin's brain and all.

But at the end of #147 she declares, "I love the Sub-Mariner, and I'm going to stay with him...forever!" At the beginning of #149, she's apparently down with Namor invading NYC, defending him against the FF, saying, "I want to be with Namor--he needs me, and I need him! If you've hurt him--I swear, I'll make you pay--all of you!" and demolishes the Fantasticar, potnetially killing her former teammates. She says nothing when Namor celebrates having defeated the FF.

Only 5 minutes later, when Ben decides to have a "talk" with Susie, she opines to him, "Reed doesn't love me...! He was always so cold and distant! He never seemed to care whether I was alive--or dead! Yet, the way he's fighting Namor--the look I saw on his face--Ben, is it possible I've been wrong about him?" Later on in the conversation, "If only I knew what was right!...And what about the future? A future without Reed? Without my husband? NO! I Love him! I've always loved him--and I can't let it end now!!!"

So Sue, who somehow has no idea Reeed loves her, is impressed enough by his fighting Namor to go back to him--although she apparently wasn't as impressed by his fighting Namor two issues earlier...And within a 5 minute period can go from declaring her undying love for Namor to repudiating that and going back to her undying love for Reed. And while she's "in love" with Namor, she's OK with him trashing NYC, endangering gosh-knows how many lives (remember, she doesn't know it's a prank...but then again, maybe this is Greg Pak's universe, where we're supposed to believe that not a single innocent dies during these monstrous rampages...).

I'm sorry, I love Sue. But this Sue has no idea of her own emotions or of those around her, and defines her self and her actions entirely by the man she thinks she's in love with on that particular page. "I love Namor, let's trash the surface world...wait, I don't so let's not." I don't see her as a "hard-edged personality" in this arc, I see her as shallow and easily manipulated. I see her as '50s and '60s style sexist caricature who is wooed by men fighting over her, and needs her sensible friends to tell her how she really feels.

Yeah, I'm being too harsh, and judging it in light of more modern standards. But in about 1 1/2 years Roy Thomas would have Sue able to beat the Hulk, punk Galactus, and do all sorts of wonderful things with force fields, without being a whining, indecisive little girl. That's my Sue.

Siskoid

But back to the cover.

One thing you're very right about old school covers, Mark, is that tiny hero in the corner. I do believe it was the single best reason for me liking Marvel over DC in my pre-teen years (though in my time, they were in a box, not over a circle). Incredibly effective marketing and I can't begin to fathom why it worked.

The other thing I'm in full agreement with is on Joe Sinnott's inks. I was thinking the exact same thing while reading your article: NO ONE can give the Thing's rocks the same depth as Sinnott. The first FF I read was in French translation and in all black and white. Those rocks were what made the biggest impression on me, and I didn't know inking from cherry picking at the time!

Where the Marvel covers of the early 70s stray for me is their huge title banners, very much limiting the amount of cover art. Everything has to be bunched into a 2/3rds of the page. That said, it's nice when it still comes together well.

Mark Engblom

"Perhaps I'm judging too harshly by modern lights, but having a plan that consists of Namor pretending to love Sue and pretending to want to destroy New York and the surface world, as a pretext to convincing Sue that she wasn't really in love with Namor but rather was still in love with Reed, sounds like something they came up with (and rejected) for Gilligan's Island."

Oh, I disagree. The story fits in perfectly with F.F. stories that came before it. You have to remember the F.F. and their world exists at a completely different level than the average joe, so things we could find out of bounds are...well...normal to them. When you have an ex-college buddy who becomes Dr. Doom, a girlfriend who's father is the Puppet Master, another girlfriend who lives in the Himalayas with a hidden race and a ready-to-launch rocket ship in your Manhattan headquarters, it's safe to say the F.F. is living another life than the one I lead. It's with this understanding in mind that I view all Fantastic Four stories.

I think Namor's plan fits in perfectly with his established personality. The imperious arrogance of the character has always been one of his trademarks, and this sort of grandiose (and highly dangerous) plan aligns quite nicely with that. Of course Namor would stage an invasion of the surface world to get Reed and Sue back together again, at the sacrifice of his own standing in Sue's mind. I think it works so well because the story represents the admittedly stumbling efforts of a character who historically hasn't been known for his benevolence trying (clumsily, but trying nonetheless) to do something to help. It's endearing....at least to me.

""I love the Sub-Mariner, and I'm going to stay with him...forever!" At the beginning of #149, she's apparently down with Namor invading NYC, defending him against the FF, saying, "I want to be with Namor--he needs me, and I need him! If you've hurt him--I swear, I'll make you pay--all of you!"

I think it's helpful to take into context the story that set off Reed and Sue's separation in the first place. In issue #141, Reed was forced to use a weapon on his son Franklin to essentially shut down all brain function, since the kid was "going nuclear" with his latent cosmic powers (for years Franklin was probably the most powerful being in the Marvel universe). Sue, understandably, was horrified and furious with Reed...and (in my mind) probably a little crazy at that point. I think what you're seeing in FF #149 was that same irrational rage talking...and from the angle of seeing her son shut down by her husband, I can hardly blame her. Seeing her brother and friend Ben sticking with Reed probably transferred some of that anger to them as well.

"So Sue, who somehow has no idea Reeed loves her, is impressed enough by his fighting Namor to go back to him--although she apparently wasn't as impressed by his fighting Namor two issues earlier...And within a 5 minute period can go from declaring her undying love for Namor to repudiating that and going back to her undying love for Reed."

This may be an instance where today's hyper-decompressed storytelling can really get in the way of enjoying the older tales. Dramatic arcs simply went faster in those days, with little time to marinade in emotion or to fully explore the fallout from various events. At the time, we were in transition from the 8-page stories DC used to crank out (three stories in one issue!) to today's hyper-elongated story arcs...so the transition of Sue fits in against that backdrop. As for Sue herself, I'm of the mind that, just as in real life, there are men and women with varying degrees of emotional strength and stability. Sue, for much of the first decade or so of the character's run, was a somewhat emotionally flighty woman. They do exist...as much as we're lead to believe they don't or shouldn't. Sue's fickle, overpowering emotions actually remind me of a number of women AND men that I know....so I don't necessarily see Sue's dramatic turnaround as something horrendously counter to what came before, or as some profound insult against Women Everywhere.

"I don't see her as a "hard-edged personality" in this arc, I see her as shallow and easily manipulated. I see her as '50s and '60s style sexist caricature who is wooed by men fighting over her, and needs her sensible friends to tell her how she really feels."

...and I would maintain that that sort of woman still exists in the world today. Not every woman, but some women. That said, you also have to remember the times in which these stories were written and who wrote them. Gerry Conway (whose stories I've always enjoyed) was one of the Second Generation comics creators who, while in many ways part of his progressive generation, still absorbed many of the attitudes toward relationships and gender roles from his parents' generation. At the time, the very thought of Sue leaving Reed WAS seen as a sign of strength and independence, despite how it all resolved itself later on.

Another reason for Sue's radically shifting behavior boils down to simple story mechanics. In order to amp up the drama of Sue winding up in Namor's arms, Conway really had to sell it, while at the same time being mindful of the limitations of the form (a relatively limited page count). The (perhaps) overly dramatic instances of Sue wishing harm on her estranged family is a good example of that "short form" selling of the dramatic premise. In today's environment, the story would have been stretched out over a year (or more), and probably involving five or six crossovers with different comics. But Conway didn't have that available to him at the time. I thought he did a great job within the mid-70's context in which it was published...and that's really the only way you can judge any older story.

As for Triton's participation, I don't have a problem with it. It was established that he and Namor became friends (after some initial hostility), and Triton himself was a dear friend of the Fantastic Four, so it makes sense that Namor would enlist his help. If I remember correctly, it was a disguised Triton who was in charge of the monstrous Giganto during the mock-invasion...maybe Triton had a special inter-species link to the creature making him easier to control. Who knows? It worked for me.

"Yeah, I'm being too harsh, and judging it in light of more modern standards. But in about 1 1/2 years Roy Thomas would have Sue able to beat the Hulk, punk Galactus, and do all sorts of wonderful things with force fields, without being a whining, indecisive little girl. That's my Sue."

Mine too. You see, everyone (ideally) progresses or evolves along a spectrum as they get older and more experienced. Despite having a number of different writers, you can also see a similar evolution with Sue from F.F. #1 all the way up to the issues you cite. Starting as a very young and very meek member of the team, Sue almost literally "grew up" before our eyes, becoming the competent master of her powers (and emotions) that she is today. It's the process of becoming that I find most interesting, instead of characters being exactly the same in their early years as they are today. People aren't like that, so I can cut a fictional Susan Richards a little slack for taking a few years to find her emotional equilibrium and inner strength.

Mark Engblom

"But back to the cover."

Okay....but I do thank Brian for the discussion on Sue's behavior. It's fun being able to hash this stuff out, despite some of us having pretty different impressions of the story.

RE: Tiny corner figures:

"Incredibly effective marketing and I can't begin to fathom why it worked."

I don't know exactly either...but it sure got my attention on the wire spinner racks when I was able to get at least some idea of which character appeared in the less visible comic books. At my job, we create products for the retail environment, so I know how big of a challenge it is to get vital information into a small space a consumer can get a "read" of quickly. I believe the comic book logos and the corner figures did just that....giving you a small "taste" of what the title was about, who was in it, etc.

"The other thing I'm in full agreement with is on Joe Sinnott's inks. "

I've always adored Joe's inks. Of all inkers, his most represents the "Marvel Style" to me (though John Romita Sr. comes in a close second). The sense of continuity he brought to the Fantastic Four title was incredible and something I can confidently say will never be duplicated again. The only achievement that surpasses it was Curt Swan's thirty unbroken years of Superman art.

"Where the Marvel covers of the early 70s stray for me is their huge title banners, very much limiting the amount of cover art."

Yeah, I wasn't bananas about those as well....but they didn't last too long as I recall. They were back to full covers before long.

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