Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Art Simek
A long time ago (Earth year: 1962) in a galaxy far, far away, Planet X is 24 hours away from certain destruction by a runaway asteroid. Kurrgo, leader of five billion, sends his mighty Robot in one of two spaceships on the planet, to kidnap a group of superheroes from the planet Earth. He kidnaps four, even though he only needs one, the Super Brain.
Upon arriving on Planet X, the other three do nothing but cause trouble, trying to fight Kurrgo’s mighty Robot, but the Super Brain creates a Reducing Gas, so that all five billion subjects can be shrunk down to manageable size and board a single spaceship, to flee certain doom. (Somehow, it never occurs to any of them, including the Super Brain, that the magical Reducing Gas ought to be aimed at the asteroid, and then there would be no need to flee.)
Super Brain also provides a canister of “anti-dote” to return the five billion subjects to regular size once they land on their new planet.
Five billion board the spaceship, but their leader Kurrgo, drunk with power, clings to the canister of “anti-dote,” dreaming of using it only on himself, so that he will not only continue to be their leader, but also hold the power of life and death over his insect-sized subjects.
Burdened by the canister, Kurrgo misses the flight from the doomed planet, and is presumably destroyed along with Planet X.
Meanwhile, as the Earthlings have commandeered the second spaceship for their return to Earth, Super Brain reveals that there is nothing in the canister of “anti-dote,” saying “Once they reach their new world, it won’t matter! They’ll all be the same size, and in this vast universe of ours, one’s size is only relative, anyway!”
The Moral of this Story is: if you greedily dream of ruling insect-sized subjects you will likely be blown up by a runaway asteroid…so DON’T DO IT!!
This Fantastic Four story is one I probably could have easily skipped, but I think it so excellently demonstrates the occasional tendency in comics to moralize and philosophize, so I couldn’t resist saying a word or two. Yes, sometimes these morality tales can hit you over the head like a blow from Mjolnir, but …so what? Comics are not the first or only form of literature to do so. Substitute for Kurrgo the dog with a bone looking at his reflection in the lake, and you’ve got an Aesop’s Fable. The Greeks have their King Midas, Shakespeare gave us MacBeth. And American film shows us what a greedy need for money and power can lead to in movies such as Wall Street, Indecent Proposal, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and of course, Citizen Kane, to name a few.
The difference is, you can probably get a kid to read and remember a Fantastic Four comic mag a lot quicker than an Aesop’s Fable. It’s modern, it’s groovy, and it’s fun.
And it allows us to see our superheroes in action. Of course some of what we see from the FF before they get kidnapped to Planet X is downright silly. Thing and Torch bicker, and Sue frets about what she’ll wear to an Award Ceremony.
None of them want to go to this Award Ceremony, even though it is in their honor. I wonder what all that was about? Was Stan shooting a raspberry at authority figures and the “establishment”? Or was he simply saying his superheroes have better things to do?
There’s a sub-plot in which the Robot floods Earth with the hum from a “Hostility Ray,” which causes everybody to turn against each other, and especially against the FF. I guess this was the best way to create the drama on the cover: “Wanted Dead or Alive!” and “Down with the Fantastic Four!”
It’s sort of a cheat. I almost feel like I’m looking at the National Enquirer, and when I open the pages, I’m going to find that somehow, this is not actually what’s going on. (Oh! You mean you BELIEVED that?) It’s a temporary plot development which helps to move the story along. I thought it odd that though everyone else on Earth is apparently affected by this Hostility Ray, the FF are not. Maybe it has something to do with their having been affected by cosmic rays? I guess we must assume they are immune.
REED RICHARDS & THE SUPER SCIENTISTS
What I most enjoy about this comic is how Reed really shines in this tale. First off, he the only one acting responsibly about having to attend the Congressional dinner in their honor (“I suppose these nerve-wracking ceremonies are the price we must pay for fame”) but more importantly, he single-handedly rescues the five billion inhabitants of Planet X. Not a bad day’s work, if you ask me. And when Thing wonders why he was willing to follow the Robot to Planet X, listen to what Reed says:
Curiosity, indeed! Spoken like a true scientist!
And speaking of scientists, didn’t you find this whole idea of pharmaceutically induced shrinking suspiciously similar to what’s going on at the same time in Tales to Astonish? In September, Henry Pym reformulates a shrinking “serum” and in October, Reed Richards concocts a “reducing gas.” You say tomato, I say tomahto…
What’s the difference? And more importantly…is Stan running out of good ideas? Did he forget that September’s Tales to Astonish starred Ant-Man, and that Henry Pym and his amazing shrinking serum will now appear in every issue? Or was this just another one of those self-promotion gigs he’s so good at? Is the concept of a shrinking formula in this month’s issue of FF meant to strengthen the public’s desire for more of the same next month?
You know, I have to say, I really dig the smart guys in these Marvel comics. Of course we must have smart guys, in order to get fantastic feats accomplished. Reed Richards, Henry Pym, Bruce Banner, and soon we’ll meet Tony Stark, who, it turns out, in addition to being a industrial pioneer, is also a genius, billionaire playboy philanthropist. These are great characters! They have skills that move the stories along, but even better, they’re downright SEXY.
For the comic buying audience of the day, however, I hope these stories and characters provided a source of encouragement and motivation. Superheroes can be inspiring, to be sure, but how about role models for real life? Not everyone can have superpowers like Mr. Fantastic or Iron Man, but nonetheless, every kid can certainly strive to do well in science class and dream of becoming a Reed Richards or Tony Stark, one day creating, discovering or inventing something to turn the world on its ear.
I know that comic book enthusiasts like to ask questions like, “If Thor and Hulk got into a fight, who would win?” and thanks to the new Avengers film…we still don’t have an answer! So the Eternal Question remains. But I like to ask questions like, “If Reed Richards, Henry Pym and Victor von Doom were boys competing in a junior high Science Fair, who would win?” I don’t know that I have an answer at the moment…but it does give one something to ponder.
Next time in the Marvelous Zone, we’ll catch up with the Thunder God, when the forecast is stormy with a chance of mischief!
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