Friday, July 28, 2006

The Frightful Four -- Plus One! (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #129 When: December, 1972
Why: Roy Thomas How: John Buscema

The story so far...
Having returned from taking a licking at the hands of the Moleman, the FF are in pretty bad shape, and they get a little more lopsided when the hotheaded Johnny Storm announces he's going to live with Crystal in the Great Refuge.
Yeah, great timing kiddo. All this, and Sue's had to take the wheel while Reed snoozes, and Ben just made a woman-driver gag...

The fun doesn't stop for Marvel's first family, and before too long Reed and Sue are at each other when Agatha Harkness appears to tell them to collect their son Franklin, as she has matters of the utmost urgency to attend to.

You can't blame ol' blue eyes for taking a brisk stroll to clear his head, but it turns out that might just not have been such a great idea, when a scream rings out into the cold night air.

Previous form:
Neither Thing, Medusa, nor the Frightful Four members included here have been featured on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths in the past.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Wingless Wizard 6 (Genius)
Speed: Thundra 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Thing 5 (Marathon Runner)
Agility: Sandman 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting Ability: Thundra 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Wingless Wizard 3 (Explosives)

If you take a look at my modest comic collection, you'll find clumps of various titles with gaps between numbers anywhere between two issues, to two hundred.
In amongst that sea of inconsistency are some titles more popular than others, and for me, Fantastic Four is one of them. This makes it especially unusual that it's taken this long to feature the Thing -- long time favourite member of the FF.

Now, the Frightful Four have a habit of shuffling membership, so it's important to establish who it is we're dealing with here.
The cover is somewhat misleading, suggesting that Thundra is a fifth member of this sinister quartet, but what we find is actually that she is the fourth, while a former member appears in a reformed capacity. I, of course, refer to the Inhuman - Medusa.

So, the lineup this time around includes stalwart leader, the Wingless Wizard; providing muscle with a slice of versatility is the Sandman; pasting up the town with his patented ensnaring goo is The Trapster; and finally, the Amazonian-like warrior Thundra makes her first appearance in comics.

Really, you'd have to rate the Four pretty highly, despite their somewhat comical win/loss record.
Not only do you have the Wizard's wonderful toys, but also the versatility and strength of Sandman, which is only coupled by the brute strength of Thundra. Really, she makes a pretty impressive addition in place of Madusa, whose abilities are somewhat redundant next to the Trapster.

The Thing gets full credit for his strength, experience and overall durability.
It's these qualities that always make him a valuable asset to any team, but against the combined might of this foursome, his strengths start to diminish.
Pound for pound, Thundra alone could match Thing in the strength department, and while she might not win nine out of ten, she would take him to the very lengths in at least five of those bouts.

Whether their effectiveness ranges from sandy pants rash, to pastey suffocation, the addition of the other three members really tips things in the favour of the Frightful Four, I would honestly have to say.
Against the full roster of the original Fantastic Four it might be a different story, but with the Thing isolated it becomes too difficult to tip the hero.

Medusa, try as she may, is not an equalizer for Sandman, let alone the Wizard (who's nasty with those anti-grav discs, and his tactical intelligence) and the Trapster (who can... tie you up with paste...).

What went down...
Alright, so we all know it: Thing's a good guy!

I don't just mean that in the 'super powered bloke who fights villains and tyrrany in all their forms' either. I mean that if you're in a bind, he'll do what he can to help -- and when a woman's scream echoes in the night air, you can be damn sure Benjamin J. Grimm'll be there!

Barrelling head-long through a wooden fence, Benjy gets his first nasty shock when he plummets down into a dugout construction site.

Things take a further turn for the worse when a flexing figure emerges dramatically, shadowed by the moon behind him -- The Sandman!

Sandman clobbers his sendimentary counterpart, but when Thing tries to return the favour, he gets no love, swinging straight through a mid-section made of sand!

Escaping a grappling session with the FF's muscle, Sandy slips away to allow the entry of two other genial gentlemen in the form of the Trapster and the Wingless Wizard.

A two pronged attack on the Thing proves effective, tying him up with quick hardening paste, and following up with a swift diving attack from the Wizard who did fly.

It's at this time that another player in the game makes herself known.
Snatching the Wizard from the sky are long, red strands of hair belonging to the Inhuman known as Medusa. Dragging the Frightful Four's leader earthbound, Medusa makes clear her resignation from the questionable quartet.

While Medusa duals with the Wizard, Sandman and Trapster launch an attack on the Thing. Using his incredible and oft underrated strength, Sandman tosses a bulldozer in the hero's general direction, while Trapster comes from the other side behind the wheel of a dump truck.

Thing reduces the 'dozer to scrap metal with a left that woulda knocked it outta the park, and makes his turn just in time to surprise Trapster -- not by destroying his vehicle, but by yanking it from it's path into the air!

While the Thing shakes Trapster out of the truck, Medusa's dominance over Wizard has come under fire.
A face full of high-impact sand puts Medusa on the ropes, and frees up the Wizard to turn the tables on Thing, who is proceeding to dangle Trapster by his belt to deliver a spanking -- "Awright, Trappie -- My second time at bat, comin' up --"

One of the Wizard's "new and improved" anti-gravity discs slaps on Thing's back just in time, and Trapster falls to the ground with smug satisfaction.
It's only by the intervention of Medusa, who ensnares the floating Thing in her hair and removes the disc, that Thing does not end up space bound.
Afterall, if Jack Kirby had meant for Thing to fly, he would've given him wings.

Feeling pretty much ticked off and a little chauvinistic [Saved by a female! How mortifyin'!]; Thing looks to take the frightened three down while they're all together by hoisting a crane above his head, and whipping it into the air. Enter: Thundra!

Much like Thing earlier, Thundra reduces the airborne crane to rubble, professing her name and might as she strikes the metallic menace down.

"You already tossed yer monicker at us, girlie! Now howzabout somethin' a wee bit more basic, like -- What's a seven-foot gal like you doin' in a place like this??"

[It's about now that Thing should start to quiver in his shorts, because not only is Thundra obsessed with battling her destined opponent of the strongest male alive, but she's also a walking, talking parody of feminisim. But more to the point, Roy Thomas? Run for the hills, man! Lordy! -- Emasculated Mike]

Thing stands his ground as Thundra whips her chain at him, unaware that it's not her intention to injure him with it, but rather to ensnare him so as to pull him into close quarters. Then the real pain starts!

Thundra's blow is so powerful, the explosive blow is exclamated with a giant asterisk: "Rolll your own sound effect, effendi -- We can't think of one that would do Thundra's murderous blow justice! -- Roy and Artie."

Medusa attempts to intervene once more, but tanglging her tensile strands around the psuedo-Amazonian only ensures she see the same fate. Swung and tossed like a cat by it's tail, Thing has to make do with some giant chunks of Earth, which he attempts to use as a makeshift catcher's mit.

Sufficiently distracted, Thing is left wide open to attack as the Frightful Four congregate around he and Medusa.
Vulnerable, not even Thing can resist the crushing combo of full strength blows from Thundra and Sandman! Despite calling him for herself, the combined effort delivers the victory, and leaves Sandman and Thundra to bicker while Trapster subdues Medusa.

The hammer...
Well, the winners, I'm surprised to say, are the Frightful Four!
The Thing was an overdue inclusion to the site, but I have to say, I'm quite pleased to have guys like Sandman and Thundra on the rankings list now, too. Characters that aren't necessarily moving titles, but are strong representations of the Marvel tradition.

It's interesting to see how Marvel's current crossover event Civil War is affecting that tradition. For me, I've enjoyed the story, and the shake up of the 'status quo,' despite being fairly confident it'll all be relatively reset reasonably soon.

I've seen long time readers offended by what they're seeing between the pages of Mark Millar's Civil War. They're seeing characters they enjoy and adore acting in ways that are familiar, yet very different.

In this particular issue of Fantastic Four, the FF are torn apart by in-house bickering, preparing for a shift in the team's roster. Johnny runs off to the Inhumans' Great Refuge, where he hopes to find love with Crystal, an Inhuman and elemental who cannot leave her home.
Meanwhile, Reed Richards and Sue Storm are torn apart when Reed places his science, as he so often does, above more personal matters, like the well being of their son Franklin.

Each of these events is motivated, in the moment, by contrived emotion penned by Roy Thomas. While these events bare little relevence to the story, or even Fantastic Four history as we recognise it today, they attempt to forward on-going plots by using the perceived humanity of the characters prompted by catalysts that could be described as little more than mcguffins.

What we arrive at is a fun moment in history, where Medusa is a member of the Fantastic Four, and a chance to see the Thing take on a brand new character in her first appearance - Thundra.

So, how do I feel about Civil War? I guess I'm not too fussed.
Not to say I condone dramatic dismissal of history, or characterisation. Quite the contrary, I loathe the fan who tells you not to care. Not to invest in the logic these on-going stories demand.
I simply cannot stand readers who insist there's something wrong with disliking a comic's delivery or plot. 'You don't have to buy' is not a good enough answer.

That said, I don't feel Civil War fails as a story, or as a Marvel comic.
This story has introduced feelings that have largely been avoided, partially out of respect for the American sensitivity, and perhaps partially out of a want of escape.

In the wake of 9/11 and shifting climates we do now, however, have a Marvel universe incredibly aware of itself, and the world in which we live.
The Stanford incident reflects a tragedy in American history, and the resulting climate indicates something relevent in the world. The necesity for security, and administration and policing is the subject, and practically the villain. But I don't really feel that's important.

What's important, and what makes this such an acceptable tale, is that it's a story about humanity, magnified several times to become super humanity.
This is a collective of persons with great power, and great responsibility who have lived parallel to great human tragedy, and gross neglect within their own community.

This story highlights a moment in time where all of these people are reacting.
For a time, after 9/11, America seemed united. The spirit was strong, and the will to ensure safety and justice at all costs was strong. It was natural.
Eventually emotions settled, and tensions relaxed. The climate was slack enough to allow a return to dissent, and confusion, and disagreement. The world fell back into it's previous, comfortable context.

This is what I see for the Marvel universe. This is what I see of Civil War.

The Fight: 5.5 The Issue: 5

NEXT MONTH: Civil War comes to Secret Earths! But first, stay tuned for an all new punch-up!

No comments: