Friday, May 23, 2014

Retro-Review: Fantastic Four #37!

21903As luck would have it, it's time for another retro-review, where I pick the top comic off my current comics reading pile and review it here as I read it! This time around, it's the classic Fantastic Four #37, "Behold! A Distant Star!" which was written by Stan Lee, penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Chic Stone and lettered by Artie Simek!

The splash page features a blurb at the top reading "The Fabulous F.F. Actually Invade Another Galaxy!" above the title blurb, and a helpful caption lets us know that the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm is not far away. Ben Grimm, the Thing, and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, are trying on their tuxes for the wedding when Johnny suddenly bursts into flame, destroying his suit! The reason this has happened is that Reed has rushed into the room with his new power-ray, which he wanted to show them (and had forgotten to turn off in his excitement). The ray hit the Torch, causing a temporary spike in his powers.

Reed explains to Ben that the ray is a variation on a power amplifier, drawing energy from an unknown source and converting it into raw, usable power. Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm's blind sculptress girlfriend, arrives to tell Reed that Sue is upset about something. Reed goes to his fiancee, offering her a bouquet of flowers from the vase outside of the room she's brooding in, and Sue explains that she's upset about the death of her father at the hands of the Skrulls (in issue #32, "Death of a Hero", the dirty, stinking shape-shifting Skrulls [you have to preface it with those words at least once, you know] forced Dr. Franklin Richards, Sue and Johnny's father, into becoming the Invincible Man in a plot to get revenge on the FF, but when he refused to cooperate, they killed him long distance). Reed tries to get Sue to feel comforted by the fact that Dr. Storm's death was to save the Earth, but that's not enough for Sue.

Meanwhile, out in space, a Skrull space yacht cruises through the evening sky. Inside it are Morat, warlord of the Skrulls, and Princess Annelle, daughter of the king. Annelle and Morat love each other, but the King will not consent to the wedding because he distrusts Morat (who was responsible for Dr. Storm's death). Annelle recognizes the act as cruel and heatless, but she loves Morat despite that... as well as Morat's firing upon helpless game running in fear on the surface of the planet below.

Back on Earth, Reed's made his decision: He and Sue are heading to the Skrull homeworld to avenge the death of Dr. Storm, and Ben and Johnny agree to come along (Ben gets talked into it by Alicia). To days later, the FF take off in a borrowed Saturn rocket provided by the NSA (aka NASA), who wanted Reed's new power-thrust drive tested anyway. Outside of Earth's atmosphere, the ship utilizes a space warp as a shortcut to the Skrull galaxy. From the looks of things outside the ship while they travel through sub-space, it almost looks like sub-space is really the Negative Zone! The ship returns to normal space, right on target, and we're treated to a Kirby Kollage page, which a caption claims to be a photo taken by remote control via a special camera (oh, that Stan, always joking around). The ship lands, and the first beings the FF encounter are a race of small creatures who are plant-based. Suddenly, the FF are attacked by the Skrulls! They go into action, but their powers stop working!They're hit with an immobilizer ray, captured, and are brought to Morat.

Reed theorizes during their trip that something in the Skrull atmosphere has destroyed their powers (although this couldn't possibly be correct, as Ben still has his orange rocky hide -- so it seems that it's more an element inhibits their ability to use them). Morat briefly looks in on them, and we learn he has not yet told Annelle's father about the capture of the FF. After Annelle leaves, Morat gathers his loyal warriors and plots the death of the FF, figuring the rest of the Skrulls, hearing of this, will acclaim him a hero. Later, the FF are let out of their cell, and Ben starts to charge the Skrulls, despite not having his powers!

Reed manages to get the Skrulls to hold their waiting fire by promising something to trade in return for their lives. He promises Morat unlimited power, to Sue's shock! Morat decides to listen to Reed's offer. Back at the imperial Skrull palace, Annelle is visiting with her father when she reveals that Morat has the FF as his captives, which is news to the king! They leave to find Morat, and the king promises Morat will feel his royal wrath!

Meanwhile, back at the FF's rocket ship, Reed has given Morat his power-ray! When Johnny and Ben ask why Reed's doing it, he tells them to be quiet, and finally turns the ray on Ben! He then turns the ray on Sue and Johnny as well, saying he'll turn it on anyone who tries to stop him! Morat tells his soldiers to sieze the power-ray from Reed, after which he turns it on Reed as well! Reed reveals that he needed himself and his teammates hit by the power-ray in order to restore their powers, and the FF are back in action! Reed stretches out to regain the power-ray while Ben wades into the Skrulls and Johnny starts flash-frying their weapons. Morat, annoyed by his troops' failure to battle the powered-up FF, grabs a demolo-gun from one of his soldiers and is about to fire it when Sue, invisible, knocks it out of his hands! Morat, remembering Sue has the power of invisibility, orders his men to lay down a crossfire of beams to trap her in place. The battle continues but then suddenly stops at the arrival of the Skrull king and Annelle! Morat tries to act as though he is presenting the king with his prisoners, but the king isn't fooled by the act one bit. The king orders Morat stripped of his insignia and brand him as a traitor, but in response, Morat draws his weapon and is about to fire, but the King's soldiers fire first...

... but it gets worse! Annelle, still foolishly in love with Morat, throws herself into the line of fire before the soldiers can stop their attack! Miraculously, while Morat is slain, Annelle is all right, thanks to Sue's quick thinking and use of her force field, as Reed explains to the king. The king, disgusted by the earthmen, says they have still earned the right to request a boon of him, and Reed just asks that they turn over the Skrull responsible for Dr. Storm's death. The king explains Morat is the one they seek, and that furthermore, Earth needs fear the Skrulls no longer, for it was only Morat who craved the conquest of Earth (this would obviously change in the future).

Sue realizes that the revenge she sought wasn't so sweet after all, and Ben notices that Annelle is distraught and crying over the death of Morat. The FF return to earth in the rocketship, Reed musing that maybe the Skrulls are not so different from them after all. Back at the Baxter Building, Alicia and the reverend are waiting the arrival of the FF for the wedding rehearsal when they hear a distant roaring sound, as the rocket splashes down into the ocean, and the FF, aided by a powerful vacuum spout created by the Torch, are drawn from the splashdown site back to the Baxter Building. Moments later, the wedding rehearsal proceeds without a hitch!

This is the oldest issue of the FF in my collection, and it's pretty beat up (obviously, that's not a picture of the copy I have up there at the beginning of this post). Kirby's art is fantastic, as we've come to expect from his FF work (although the new hairstyle Sue has in this issue is one I never warmed to myself), and the dialogue by Stan is dramatic as all hell. This was one of the issues of the FF's comic that was adapted by Hanna-Barbera for an episode of the FF cartoon, although obviously changes were made, since they didn't do the Invincible Man story in the cartoon, nor was the wedding of Reed and Sue a part of the show (weren't they introduced as already married?).

Advertisements in this issue included a full page ad for American Body Building Club, Commercial Trades Institute (pushing their auto mechanic training), the Wayne School ("Now You Can Finish High School At Home"), Atlas Tool Co. (selling race car kits), Ellbar Dist. (selling X-Ray specs in a half page ad on one page, and "living monsters" on another half-page ad), Grit, the Yubizawa System of martial arts, a full-age house ad for Daredevil #6, a 1/3 page ad for the Merry Marvel Marching Society (the rest of the page is an ad asking "Who Says This Isn't the Marvel Age Of Comics?!" with the logos for Daredevil, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Tales of Suspense, Journey into Mystery, Amazing Spider-Man, Tales to AStonish, Sgt. Fury, Strange Tales, Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide kid, Patsy Walker, Millie the Model, Patsy and Heddy, and Modeling with Millie), and a few more body-building ads. The Fantastic Four Fan Page us two pages this issue, with etters from Dosado Macapagal, Jr. from the Philippines, Kraisden Wilde, Ed Noonchester, Keith McWalter, Dave Smith, Kevin Hunt, George Carer, Steve Wilson, and perennial letterhack Guy H. Lillian III. The Mighty Marvel Checklist takes up part of the first page, while the other has a Special Announcements Section promising that Reed and Sue will be married within a hear, the announcement of a new character appearing in X-Men #10, and the promise of future announcements about the MMMS. Both of these items would, before too much longer, become spun off into the full-fledged Bullpen Bullitens page.  By the way... the amazing new character being introduced in X-Men was Ka-Zar!

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