Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Classics - Fantastic Four #120

While there's no denying that the original run on the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was loaded with great comics and largely set the standard for the industry, it's also true that the artists that followed on the comic turned in some great work.

After a (very) short stint by John Romita on the FF, the art reins were turned over to John Buscema. He was an excellent choice - few artists could match his power or craftsmanship. Drawing on influences like Hal Foster and Alex Raymond, Buscema filled the page with kinetic images, powerful heroes and beautiful women.

I picked this issue to review because I remember being shocked to the core by the ending - which is rather surprising, because most of the issue is downright ordinary.

It begins with the FF relaxing in the Baxter Building when they're suddenly attacked by a nameless bunch of armed hoods. The danger is easily dealt with, but a new mystery appears in the skies - a severe man walks in the air, observing the world for unknown reasons. His costume almost defies description - he has a sunburst symbol on his chest, he wears a short skirt, red tights, a silver helmet and he seems to have flames emanating from his back, almost forming a cape.

The FF lure him to the roof of the Baxter Building, where the Human Torch, the Thing and the Invisible Girl distract him while Mr. Fantastic searches for answers.

Finally, the Air-Walker speaks, and reveals his true mission.

Here we must pause, because despite my preference to never reveal the ending, in order for this discussion to continue, I'll have to reveal the shocking final page. The comic came out in 1972, so I suppose you've had plenty of time to track it down by now. Anyway...

I remember being thunderstruck by the ending, as the Air-Walker pulls out a giant trumpet. The final page shows him blowing the horn, shaking the very Earth below the feet of our heroes. He then reveals that he is actually the angel Gabriel, sent by God to signal the end of the world!

Well, my 16-year-old jaw dropped open at that. Keep in mind that one of the truly forbidden topics in comics at the time was God and religion (except in the most vague or supportive ways, of course).

Stan had managed to slip in a few references over the years: in one issue, Reed faces death in the Negative Zone, and he realizes that at least he'll learn the answer to the "final question." It was a staggering thought to my even-younger self, the idea of facing death! In another issue, when Sue worries that no one is powerful enough to defeat the villain, Stan has the Watcher say (going from memory here), "There is one, and his only power is love!"

But I was shocked to find this issue, where the FF are apparently up against the end of times as ordered up by the almighty!

Of course, in the next issue, we find things aren't what they seem (and that part of the story I won't spoil for you).

These days, the inclusion of God and his will might be a bit less shocking, but in 1972, it just wasn't done - until Stan and John did it.

It wouldn't be the first time Marvel - and Stan in particular - broke the rules - but I'll save that story for another Wednesday.

Grade: B+



Billy Hogan said...

I remember getting this issue from a 3-pack at the grocery store. It was a cool Galactus story, although the original Lee/Kirby one was the best.

Chuck said...

Billy, very true! Galactus has been in some great stories over the decades, but nothing beats the original!