The adventures published by Marvel Comics during the company’s heyday in the nineteen-sixties and seventies were scintillating and suspenseful sagas of stellar superstars spanning the stars. And it’s a good thing they were, given the profound propensity that the company’s marketing mavens had for breathless boosterism. The monthly rundown in the Mighty Marvel Checklist promised thrills galore across the entire line, so it’s natural to question how well these supposedly staggering stories lived up to the hype.
For example, Fantastic Four #104, written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita, was promoted like this: “The fighting F.F.–versus Magneto–versus Sub-Mariner! A thousand surprises! A million thrills! And oh, that ending!” That’s a lot of adventure allegedly awaiting in the powerful pages of that pulse-pounding periodical. Could that cacophony of complimentary comments be correct?
First of all, I think we can all agree that the math just isn’t going to work out. No matter how peppy the plotting or potent the pencils, twenty numbered pages just aren’t going to provide enough space for thrills numbering into seven digits. A thousand surprises? Yeah maybe, but not with all those thrills to pack in too. There are, however, ample opportunity for amazement. Look how much is piled into this panel:
That’s Richard Nixon lamenting the dire circumstances facing the country because the savage Sub-Mariner has marshaled the armies of Atlantic to invade New York City. That’s a lot of story, and the number of surprises in this single moment are significant, depending on how generously “surprise” is defined. I mean, a purple flag for Atlantis? Didn’t see that coming.
Ol’ Tricky Dick there is mouthing miserable misanthropy at Marvel’s first family because they’ve claimed Namor isn’t the actual enemy. As usual, the default distrust of the 37th President is his fatal flaw. The Fantastic Four are faithfully factual and Namor nefariousness is a front. The real villain of the piece is the malevolent mutant Magneto, who claims sovereignty in Central Park.
Surely a shocker! The X-Men’s fearsome foe feels the fervent functioning of the phenomenal Fantastic Four to foist him from his figurative finial. He naturally takes action, dispatching several of his game goons to the Baxter Building, bursting with bravado as they best the blue-eyed Benjamin J. Grimm.
Toppling the tectonic Thing is a titanic task by any test, and it can certainly stand as both a thrill and a shock. Their surge of superiority is short-lived, though, and the Fantastic Four are soon soaring to the site of Magneto’s makeshift monarchy main office. Reed Richards has anxiously assembled a device destined to down the despot. He simply needs to get into place and trigger the contraption. The result is a curiously confined master of magnetism.
Maybe that’s the ending the earns an “oh” in the bodacious blurb. It does have the titillating tinge of tricky turnabout that is the inspiring and ironic ingredient of a formidable finale. Yet I’m not sure it qualifies at the sort of devastating denouement eager adherents would be expecting. Maybe Marvel meant it to be the vituperative verdict offered by the Atlantean as he absconded away, a verdict that left the heroes humbled.
An edifying ending is ever there was one. Take time to turn it over, true believer. The waterlogged warrior won that philosophical face-off. Surprise!