As I’ve related in previous posts on this blog, my introduction to Marvel Comics’ Inhumans came not by way of their usual stomping grounds in Fantastic Four, but rather via an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that featured Medusa. Soon afterwards, I encountered Medusa’s little sister Crystal as a supporting character in FF — but all I knew about her at first was that she was the Human Torch’s girlfriend, and that she had a weird pattern in her hair. It wasn’t until issue #81, in which Crys suited up in blue to become the Invisible Girl’s temporary replacement on the team, that I even learned that she had superpowers, let alone that she was a member of the mysterious Inhumans’ royal house.
And then, just one month later, it was at last time to meet the rest of the family…
There’s an interesting factoid concerning the figure of Reed Richards in the last panel shown just above — according to Mark Alexander’s Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years (AKA The Jack Kirby Collector #58), writer/editor Stan Lee didn’t like penciler/co-plotter Jack Kirby’s original version (shown at right), and asked John Romita to rework it — possibly because he thought Reed looked “too effeminate” (Alexander’s words). One may hope that wasn’t actually the case, while also recognizing that, whatever the reason for the change, it was certainly within Lee’s purview as editor to require it. Still, knowing as we now do how unhappy Kirby was becoming at Marvel during this time period, it seems like a rather overblown, and needlessly provocative, action on Lee’s part. On the other hand, it’s also possible that, as some comics historians assert, Lee still didn’t fully appreciate the depth of Kirby’s discontent. At this point, of course, we can only speculate.
But getting back to our story — just a couple of panels later, we readers see what Crystal might have meant by her reference to the Inhumans’ “special methods” of making contact, as a sudden burst of light heralds the arrival of an unexpected visitor:
Back in 1968, my eleven-year-old self immediately fell in love with the giant teleporting dog with a tuning fork on his head. (And, to be honest, he’s still my favorite character of the whole Attilan bunch.)
Unfortunately for our heroes, Lockjaw’s not the only one who comes through the inter-dimensional portal. Right behind him is a band of Alpha Primitives — members of “the Inhumans’ deadly drone race!“*
Crystal herself never fights back against her assailants, and she begs her teammates not to interfere with them, either; but, of course, none of the guys are having any of that — — not Reed, not Ben Grimm (the “clobberin'” Thing), and most especially not Crys’ boyfriend, Johnny Storm:
…though it’s all to little avail.
Not that our heroes are going to let a little thing like a sealed-off portal stop them. As Johnny points out, “We know where their Refuge is — and we’ve got the rocket to reach it!” And so, while Reed hustles away to prepare the FF’s craft for takeoff, the story shifts scene to said (Great) Refuge…
(“They dared to call me mad, did they? Maximus the Madman, eh?” Well, maybe they were just talking about your sense of sartorial style, Maxy. I mean, dude, that helmet is crazy. Here’s hoping that all the doorways in your palace are really tall!)
This full-page panel by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (the second of three such in the issue, counting the opening splash on page one), besides being a striking composition in and of itself, provides plenty of space for lee to provide some necessary (if not exactly realistic) expository dialogue — especially useful for an Inhumans newbie like me, who didn’t know his Maximus from his Timberius in the October of 1968.
Among the helpful bits of information shared here is how our mad villain has negated Medusa’s superpower (one of the few things about the Inhumans I did already know about) by, as he tells her (rather pointlessly, from her POV), “coating your hair with a chemical of my own invention”. (Let me go on the record here as expressing my preference for this method of taking Medusa “off the board”, powers-wise, versus the one utilized by Maximus in a parallel situation in last year’s ill-fated Inhumans television series [a series I otherwise pretty much enjoyed, by the way]. And yes, I’m well aware that Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee went there first.)
And while we’re on the subject of Medusa, let’s pause just another moment to note that, after having briefly sported new looks in a couple of comics that had come out earlier in the year — courtesy of Gene Colan (in Marvel Super-Heroes #15) and John Romita (in Amazing Spider-Man #62), respectively — our Lady of the Living Locks has here returned to the original, Jack Kirby-designed outfit she’d previously been wearing ever since she was introduced as a member of the Frightful Four, back in 1965. Perhaps Kirby didn’t get the memo regarding new costume designs and colors for the character (or did, and didn’t care), or maybe Stan Lee changed his mind about same — but regardless of the how and why, Medusa would continue to rock this same basic blue-and-purple number (with some minor variations) for decades to come.
And now, back to our story — and the explanation for why the FF’s newest member didn’t resist being taken captive:
Crystal demands to know how Maximus can possibly have taken out the rest of the Royal Family, especially their monarch, Black Bolt — and cousin Max, cad that he is, forces Medusa to explain: “He sapped our wills — with his accursed hypno-potions!” Maximus then activates a control built into his throne, and (via the story’s third and final full-page panel) reveals to Crystal this sad, sad sight:
Meanwhile, back at the Baxter Building…
The FF’s rocket soars into space, just long enough to give us that great “Kirby Kosmic” vista in the second panel above — and then it’s heading back down towards terra firma, though on the other side of the world from where it started:
Back in ’68, that last panel’s brief glimpse of the ruins of the “Great Barrier”, and the caption’s reference to past events, suggested the depth of shared history between the Fantastic Four and their Inhuman friends — and made my eleven-year-old self eager to learn more.
Our heroes now proceed on into the Hidden City — but they’ve hardly set foot past the ruined Barrier when a trapdoor opens beneath them, dropping them into a hidden chamber below. Almost immediately, they’re attacked by what’s described as “a strange, gigantic android — a multi-powered Primitive — one of the deadliest of Maximus’ unholy creations”. It’s a somewhat confusing description, due to the use of the term “Primitive”; that word suggests an association between Zorr and the earlier-seen Alpha Primitives, but the latter have already been established as flesh-and-blood beings, not androids. In practice, however, this inconsistency hardly matters — because Zorr is basically just a big, bad, personality-free robot of the sort that turned up all too often in Marvel’s comics of this period.
Still, for a generic robot, Zorr makes pretty short work of Mister Fantastic, the Torch, and the Thing — shorter than really seems plausible, to be honest (though to its credit, the story eventually gets around to addressing that issue). In any event, after a mere three pages of combat, all three are down for the count.
Meanwhile, Maximus has been watching the whole thing on a monitor screen, as have his hapless captives. But even as the villain gloats over his evident victory, Crystal vows to fight on:
Normally, at this point I’d wrap up the current blog post, with a promise to follow up with another one detailing the story’s conclusion in about a month’s time. But, for several reasons — with the main one being that I have a number of other comics I want to blog about in November — I’ve opted to plow ahead and cover FF #83 at this time, rather than wait.
“Shall Man Survive?” (by the same creative team of Lee, Kirby and Sinnott) opens with Reed, Ben, and Johnny once again conscious and upright, but securely imprisoned:
Boy, that hypno-tech of Maximus comes in really handy, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, Maximus is busy getting ready for his imperial coronation ceremony:
This scene brings onstage, for the first time in this story, Maximus’ dastardly allies/servitors — the “evil Inhumans” who, in addition to the aforementioned Timberius, include Aireo, Falcona, Leonus, and Stallior. (Interestingly enough, with the exception of the air-floating Aireo, none of these characters were creations of Lee and Kirby — rather, they’d all debuted just a few months previously, in a story written by Gary Friedrich and penciled by Marie Severin, published in Incredible Hulk Special #1.)
As Maximus goes on to explain to his underlings, he intends, at the very moment he’s proclaimed “Emperor Eternal“, to fire the Hypno-Gun — and thereby place “all who walk… or swim… or crawl… upon the surface of Earth” under his mental command, forever. Yikes!
But, even as he gloats in anticipation of his final triumph, back in their prison his fellow royals finally prevail upon his brother Black Bolt to use his ultimate superpower — the power of his voice — to free them, despite the risk to them all. (Back in 1968, off course, my younger self had no idea that Black Bolt had such a power, and so didn’t realize that such an option was even on the table.)
And in that moment, the Inhuman king’s power shatters his brother Maximus’ force field walls, and the four male royals are free — and unharmed.
“Now that one is free… we all are free!” Medusa exults. “The hypno-spell is shattered! That means I can use my hair again!”
Um, what? What happened to the chemical coating for Medusa’s hair Maximus was bragging about last issue? I guess it, er… wore off? (Or, as seems more likely, Lee and/or Kirby simply forgot about that little detail.) In any event, Medusa once again has complete control over every strand of her hair, and thus quickly picks the locks holding her in shackles:
The sequence above provides a rare example of Lee deciding to let Kirby’s pencils do all the storytelling work for an entire page and a half (a smart move on his part, in my opinion). It also, of course, allows for an opportunity for the Inhumans who haven’t yet demonstrated their powers to do so (with the perhaps unavoidable exception of Triton, who even my newbie self could tell needed water to be able to really do his thing).
This full page panel of the Inhumans on the move is a winner — a classic image that seems a natural to be made into a poster. (That’s never happened, to the best of my knowledge, though Marvel came pretty close earlier this year when they adapted it to use as the cover of a collection of some early Inhuman stories.)
The story now shifts scenes again, this time back to the FF’s home base at the Baxter Building — just long enough to check in on Sue Richards and her and Reed’s new baby boy, Franklin. It’s a nice way to let readers know that, even if Sue’s not currently playing an active role in the FF’s adventures, she’s still an important part of the book. (And, of course, it also justifies her otherwise rather incongruous appearance on issue #83’s admittedly symbolic cover.)
As for Reed himself, as well as Ben and Johnny — they’re still stuck in Maximus’ “hypnotic” prison cell. But not for long! After eleven pages of cooling his heels in a trap he’s already deduced only exists in his and his teammates’ minds, the world’s most brilliant man finally hits upon the idea of trying to escape by thinking their way out.
“Keep telling yourselves… there are no walls!” Reed exhorts the others. “We’re free! Free!” And whattyaknow, the gambit works. The “walls” vanish in a burst of light, and our heroes race forward towards freedom. But, of course, they’ve still got to get through the improbably formidable Zorr, first:
Reed’s urging Ben to hurry turns out to make the critical difference between this bout and the last one, as becomes clear once the Thing clobbers th’ bum:
Ah, it was that amazing hypno-tech, all along! It all make sense now.
But even as our heroes race for the exits, just outside, Maximus is proclaiming himself Emperor Eternal. With his hands on the controls of the Hypno-Gun, the villain vows that just as soon as he subjugates the Earth, he’ll point the weapon skywards, towards outer space. “For I was born to rule… the universe!!”
Unfortunately for our mad Max, in the very next moment, his estranged royal cousins arrive on the scene — just in time for Crystal to unleash an elemental whammy, and…
Leaping on Stallior’s back, Maximus makes a break for it, even as the crowd of “ordinary” Inhumans assembled for the coronation/world subjugation festivities turns angrily against him. Medusa, speaking for her husband, assures everyone in earshot that Black Bolt won’t hold their support of the usurper against them (which seems pretty darn generous, if you ask me).
At long last — and a little too late to make any kind of difference — the Fantastic Four-minus-one show up:
And on that characteristic note of a high-flown homily from Reed, accompanied by a deflating wisecrack from Ben, our story comes to a close.
All in all, the FF adventure chronicled in issues #82 and #83 has to be judged a very simple — even simplistic — story, especially when compared with the classic tales that had introduced the Inhumans back in 1965 and 1966. The whole plot turns on Maximus’ newly-invented hypno-tech, and his less-than-perfectly-thought-out application of same — after all, if he’d just outfitted each of his fellow Royals with a “hypno-stud” the way he did Lockjaw, Black Bolt would never have been able to bust them out their force-field cell as he did — and they in turn wouldn’t have been able to stop Maxy before he fired his Hypno-Gun. (But hey, I guess that’s the kind of strategic thinking you should expect from a guy they call “Maximus the Madman“, right?) Even the escape of Reed, Ben, and Johnny would have made no difference to the outcome, as the story clearly indicates that the villain would almost certainly have pulled the trigger before they arrived at the scene. Indeed, the nominal stars of the book (with the important exception of new member Crystal) are, in the end, completely superfluous to the story, in spite of the hefty number of pages devoted to their battles against Zorr, et al.
But, I must confess, none of that mattered a whit to me as an eleven-year-old reader in the fall of 1968. At this point I was months, if not years, away from encountering any of the Inhumans’ earlier appearances in Fantastic Four (though, after reading these two issues, I was desperate to do so), and so had no other, better Attilan-centric stories to compare them to. Besides that, I was pretty forgiving of such supposed storytelling foibles as having the heroes show up too late to save the day, so long as the storytellers kept the action, and the wonders, coming — which Kirby and Lee did, in spades. (Did I mention I was eleven?) For me, this two-parter essentially served as “Inhumans 101”, and as such, it did a more than adequate job.
From the perspective of Marvel Comics itself, however, one might well ask — what was the purpose of the Inhumans’ appearance in these two issues? It’s certainly possible that Lee and Kirby featured the gang from the Great Refuge at this time simply because it had been a while since the last time they’d all shown up. This was, after all, an era in which Kirby had essentially stopped coming up with new characters and concepts for Fantastic Four — the era Mike Alexander calls “The Age of Inertia”. Beginning around issue #68, and continuing on through #83 and beyond, the foes (and friends) encountered by the FF in their comic book’s pages had been (and would continue to be), for the most part, a series of returning old faces — the Silver Surfer, Galactus, Psycho-Man, the Wizard, Wyatt Wingfoot, and so forth. (Continuing that trend, issue #83’s “Next” issue blurb [shown above] promised that the return of the Inhumans would be immediately followed by the return, in #84, of “the Lord of Latveria” — i.e., Doctor Doom — a return that my eleven-year-old self was extremely stoked for as 1968 wound down.)
But there may well have been more to it than that. The Inhumans had originally been created back in 1965 with the idea of featuring them in their own title; and in 1968, both Stan Lee and his publisher, Martin Goodman, were still interested in following through on that notion. (The solo Medusa tale in Marvel Super-Heroes #15 that appeared in April, 1968 had in fact been a pilot of sorts for a Medusa-forward Inhumans series that eventually fell through, according to Mark Evanier’s introduction for Marvel Masterworks – The Inhumans, Vol. 1.) And there was a precedent for setting up a new title “spinning off” from Fantastic Four with a multi-issue storyline in FF itself; by most accounts, Fantastic Four #74 – #77 was just such a setup for the subsequent Silver Surfer series (though, to Kirby’s dismay, John Buscema would ultimately become Lee’s collaborator on that book, rather than Kirby himself).
The notion that a new Inhumans title, to be drawn by Jack Kirby, is supported (though not proven, obviously), by the following announcement that led off the “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” page running in Marvel’s comics cover-dated February, 1969 (including FF #83):
I can’t recall whether my younger self attempted to guess what “new title” Lee and Kirby were working up — I suspect not — but I’d wager that most veteran fans of the time would have deduced it to be the long-rumored Inhumans title. That supposition would have been buttressed by a “Stan’s Soapbox” column that ran on another “Bullpen Bulletins” page a mere three months later. In this column, Stan Lee specifically acknowledges that fans were “promised a new INHUMANS mag by this time” — before apologetically explaining that said mag won’t be appearing for awhile, due to scheduling problems related to Marvel having changed to a new printer. Um… sure, I guess. However things may have gone down, the fact remains that the Inhumans wouldn’t headline their own new series until the summer of 1970 — at which time it would occupy just one half of a new title (Amazing Adventures) rather than a whole book of its own, and would be written as well as drawn by Jack Kirby.
But the rest of that “ITEM!” from the Feb., 1969 Bullpen Bulletins was accurate. Kirby was indeed stepping away from the character he’d co-created (with Joe Simon) in 1940, and helped revive (with Stan Lee) in 1964. Captain America would now be drawn and co-plotted by a guy whose work my eleven-year old self had, up to this time, only seen in house ads — or on the covers of comics I’d seen in the spinner rack, and passed by. I may not have even associated the little of his art that I’d seen with the artist’s name.
Of course, all of that was about to change. But if you’d like to learn more about my first full-on encounter with the work of Jim Steranko, you’ll have to come back for next week’s post.
*More specifically, the Alpha Primitives are a race of physically strong, mentally weak hominids genetically engineered by the Inhumans to serve as slave labor — an extremely problematic concept that Lee and Kirby never did much with in their Inhumans stories, leaving it to later creators like Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas to explore more fully.