Comics : Pocket Book: The Fantastic Four Return

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning

This review was first published on: 5 Jan 2016.

Background...

You may as well know up front. If there is an FTB review to skip, this is the one. It is a reprint book, with abridged stories presented in black and white with most of the panels cut up and turned sideways. Of the three stories reprinted, our hero only appears in one of them. In one panel. Cut down from three panels. As Peter Parker. If the original Fantastic Four #35, February 1965 review is enough for you, that’s fine. For the rest of you crazy completists…welcome aboard.

In Detail...

Pocket Book: The Fantastic Four Return
Year 1967 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Fantastic Four Annual #2
Reprints: Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #33
Reprints: Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #35
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Review

This is the sixth and last of the Lancer Paperbacks and the only repeat of a previous series. (Which is why it is called “The Fantastic Four Return.”) We didn’t review the first Fantastic Four volume because Spidey/Peter didn’t appear. But we did review the Spider-Man and Daredevil books. (The others are the Hulk and Thor. You can see all the covers at Dial B For Blog.) The full title, according to the spine is “The Fantastic Four Return: Mighty Marvel Collector’s Album.” The spine also marks it as Lancer 72-169 and designates it as #9. Don’t worry about this. Remember that the Pocket Book: Daredevil was designated as #0.

There are three stories in the book, abridged versions of Fantastic Four Annual #2 (the second original story from that issue), Fantastic Four #33, and Fantastic Four #35. Of course, the illustrations on the front cover, on the first page, and on the frontispiece are from none of these issues. After a determined search, I have located the front page illustration on the page one splash of Fantastic Four #41. It shows the Thing, his head down, walking away. Mr. Fantastic stretches out his arm to grab the Thing by the elbow, trying to hold him back, while a sad Invisible Girl buries her head on Mr. F’s shoulder. The Human Torch flies behind them. A strange choice for the cover. The text is a mish-mash of Pop Art lettering that is probably lifted from various covers. The whole thing reads, “The Fantastic Four Return. Guest Star Sub-Mariner. Mighty Marvel Collector’s Album. All New Thrills! Also: Doctor Doom, Dragon Man.” The “Fantastic Four” is the 60s logo. The “Sub-Mariner” logo may be from Fantastic Four #27. It’s certainly not from the story included here. I’m not going to track down the others. I would like to point out that “All New Thrills” may have been great when it first appeared on whatever cover but it’s just out-and-out false here. Not a thing in this paperback is new.

Open the book and the first thing you see if an illustration of the Invisible Girl falling back into Mr. Fantastic’s arms while the Thing shakes his fist and the Human Torch flies toward…text that reads “The Fantastic Four soaring to new heights of glory now more than ever, the world’s greatest!” This artwork is from Fantastic Four #37 page 7 panel 3. It is not text from which Sue is recoiling. It is a pack of Skrulls, cut out here.

Turn the page to the title page with a frontispiece that is from the Fantastic Four 1960s t-shirt. (It may also be a pin-up. If it is, please let me know where it’s from.)

Okay, enough of that. Let’s get to the stories. The first one is The Final Victory of Dr. Doom! Now, Fantastic Four Annual #2 begins with the 12-page “The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!” Six “Famous Foes” pin-ups follow. (Super Skrull, Rama-Tut, Molecule Man, Hate Monger, Infant Terrible, and Diablo.) Then a reprint of Fantastic Four #5, the first Dr. Doom story. (Five pin-ups are mixed into that story: Human Torch, Invisible Girl, Thing, Alicia Masters, and Mr. Fantastic.) It is only after all of that is done that our story appears. Here it is, as presented in our paperback.

The Fantastic Four get an invitation to an Embassy reception given by the Latverian Ambassador. No one seems to know who the ruler of Latveria is. (“They say it’s the Prime Minister,” says Reed Richards, “but strangely enough no one seems to be sure.”) At the dinner, the Four are given glasses of Latveria’s “native juice drink.” Reed is suspicious and doesn’t drink but the other three do.

After the dinner, the Human Torch romances a Latverian Countess, taking her out on a balcony. The Thing comes out and taunts him then runs off. The Torch follows after and the Thing ambushes him. Johnny flames on and tracks down the Thing and attacks him. Meanwhile, Sue Storm finds Reed kissing someone else. He laughs at her when she says she thought he loved her. “You’re lucky I even tolerate you!” he replies. Sue runs off, sobbing. It isn’t Reed to whom she talked, of course, just as it wasn’t Ben who taunted the Torch. They have been affected by the berry juice. “The FF are imagining just what I want them to imagine,” says Dr. Doom, who is spying behind the scenes.

Soon, the four all meet in the same hallway. Sue attacks Reed and it seems like things are going Doom’s way but then Doom makes the mistake of looking at his face in the mirror and, unable to stand the sight, he shoots the mirror, causing enough noise for Sue and Reed to hear it. They discover Doom and Sue uses her force field to force Doom out a window. Reed explains that it was the juice that made Sue see him “with that other girl.” (I’m not sure Reed should know anything about another girl. Certainly not in this abridged version and maybe not even in the original where Sue calls him “my two-timing friend” and says nothing else.) “I’ve been such a fool,” Sue says and Reed replies, “Not a fool, Sue…merely a female! You couldn’t have reacted differently!” (Welcome to 1964, folks!)

The FF return to the Baxter Building where Doom is waiting for them. The Thing can’t touch Doom because he is surrounded by a force field. Reed hands Johnny a device he has created to short-circuit Doom’s force field. Johnny must fly up into the sky and use his nova flame to power the device, which eliminates Doom’s force field but also sends Johnny falling. Reed reaches out and grabs him, burning his hands. The Thing tackles Doom but is felled by Doom’s “miniature paralysis gun.” Sue tackles Doom until Reed steps in. “Why battle a female, Doom,” says Reed, “When I’m as yet undefeated?!!” (1964, remember?) Reed proposes a one-on-one mental battle using his encephalo-gun. He first pours a couple of drinks and he and Doom have a toast. Then they each attach the encephalo-gun to their foreheads and battle each other with brain waves. Slowly, Doom takes command until Mr. Fantastic disappears completely. Having proven he is the mental superior, he doesn’t bother with the rest of the FF but strides away, bragging of his victory. The FF have no idea what he’s talking about because the whole thing is a fantasy brought on by the berry juice, which is what Reed served him for the toast. When Ben wants to tackle Doom again, Reed restrains him. “We’re not murderers,” he says, “And he’s committed no crime for which he can be arrested! As head of a foreign nation…he’s entitled to diplomatic immunity in this country!” They know he will be back one day and vow to be ready for him.

Let’s look at what’s missing from the original story. The first six plus pages to start with, which deal with Fantiasti-car engine trouble, an encounter with an old man and his old car and an art dealer who buys the car off of him, then shift to outer space where Dr. Doom meets Pharaoh Rama-Tut and the two wonder if they could be the same man. Our story uses the Doom figure and word balloon from page five panel one then jumps to page seven panel seven. Most of page nine is gone and a couple of panels from page 10. Page 14 panels 5-6 and page 15 panels 1-3, mostly showing the Thing fighting the Torch, are gone. So is page 15 panel 6 with a detail of the Mr. Fantastic/Invisible Girl battle. Four panels from page 16 showing Doom taking off his mask are missing. In case you were wondering why he was suddenly shooting his mirror. The first four panels of page 18 are gone. They also show the Thing fighting the Torch. That’s it. There are some tweaks here and there; captions moved or amended in order to make it all work but let’s not go into those. In fact, once we get past the rough start, much of the original story is here. And it’s a classic story with a classic ending (sort of stolen in the Venom story in Amazing Spider-Man #347, May 1991). The original story is a slam-dunk 5 webs but in this condensed, cut up, and black and white form, I’m dropping that to four webs.

Very little is missing from Side-By-Side with Sub-Mariner! from Fantastic Four #33. Even the Namor pin-up is here, but we’ll get to that later. The story is still carved up uncomfortably, beginning with the title being turned sideways and having a page of its own followed by the rest of the splash page turned right-side up again but shrunk down to about a fourth of its original size. The whole rest of the story is sideways again. It all gets to be a bit of an annoyance.

Anyway, Reed Richards is examining the corpse of a “creature from the deepest part of the ocean,” discovered by the Coast Guard. “Something very unusual must have happened down there to drive it to the surface,” he says. Reed asks the Human Torch to “fly over the coastline” to see if he can spot anything unusual. He doesn’t get far before he sees a “blue-skinned female” emerge from the water and land on a dock. The Torch scoops her up and brings her to the Baxter Building where Sue recognizes her as Lady Dorma, who tells the FF she needs their help. “If you refuse me, Sub-Mariner will die! And I will be to blame!”

Dorma tells her story. Namor has finally found his people and reclaimed his throne. But the barbaric Attuma attacks with an army of thousands, claiming the throne for himself. When Dorma expresses concern for Namor’s safety, he spurns her concern and love. Hurt, she goes to Attuma and shows him the way into the city. (They could probably just swim down from above to any point in the city.) Attuma’s army overwhelms Namor. Without waiting to see what has become of him, Dorma flees and seeks the FF.

Even though he hates the Sub-Mariner (according to Sue), Reed agrees to help. He sprays them all with an “oxo-spray” that “supplies the skin with a layer of self-perpetuating oxygen enabling one to breathe underwater for hours at a time!” Johnny’s flame will work underwater, too, but only for a few seconds at a time. They all head to the FF’s bathysphere down at the dock. (Yeah, the FF have their own bathysphere that they keep at the docks. Wanna make something of it?) Dorma leads them to Atlantis where Attuma’s men attack the bathysphere with a catapult. (I think the water resistance would make a catapult pretty useless at the bottom of the ocean but who am I to tell Attuma his business?) The Thing and Torch leave the bathysphere and attack, destroying the catapult. Re-joining the others, they slip by Attuma’s troops by riding Reed who has stretched himself to resemble a giant stingray. When Reed tires out, the Thing captures one of Attuma’s ships and they ride in with the invasion fleet.

Meanwhile, Namor fights on. Attuma unleashes his “globules of darkness” which blind Namor’s soldiers but not Namor himself since he has wings on his ankles that allow him to get above the darkness. (But, see, again, it’s in the water. Any one of these guys should be able to swim above the darkness.) So, Attuma and Sub-Mariner end up in hand-to-hand combat (well, Attuma has a sword but you know what I mean) even as Attuma’s men set up their ionic ray to kill Namor. The Thing arrives and destroys the ray. Others try to snare Subby with a “noose of unbreakable titanium wire” but Mr. Fantastic breaks that up. One of the soldiers says, “Despair not! Our Fourth Platoon is about to destroy all of Atlantis with a nutro-nuclear dissolvo-bomb!” This seems to contradict the whole point of the attack which is to make Attuma king of Atlantis. Doesn’t matter. The Human Torch destroys the bomb. But then he notices that it is getting hard to breathe. “Reed’s oxo-spray must be wearing off.”

Meanwhile, the other three FF members, “being a few years older” have not started to lose their breath. In her invisible form, Sue watches Namor battle Attuma hand-to-hand. Namor shatters Attuma’s sword but Attuma fires disintegrator rays from the appendages on his helmet. To save him, Sue uses her powers to make Namor invisible. He is so intent on his fight that he never notices and can’t understand why Attuma starts flailing about. But then she too succumbs to lack of oxygen. However, Reed saves her and collects the four together. Apparently, the oxo-spray is a one shot deal and pretty careless of Reed, if you ask me. With them all suffocating, Reed decides he must stretch to the surface with Sue in his arms. “Luckily, this is a shallow area,” he says. Yeah. A shallow bottom of the ocean right next to Atlantis. The Thing and the Torch climb Reed’s body to the surface.

Meanwhile, Namor, still invisible until Sue gets out of range, thumps Attuma until the barbarian cries “Uncle!” Namor orders that Attuma and his army be “banished forever from the Golden Realm.” Alone with Dorma, he tells her that he knows she betrayed him but he forgives her because “I, above all others, am aware of the strange things one may do in the name of love.” He then worries that he is too weary in case an enemy like the Fantastic Four attacks now. Dorma decides it is best for Namor’s pride that he never learn that the FF just helped him save his crown.

On the surface, the FF float awaiting an arriving patrol boat. Reed notices that Sue calls him “darling, even after seeing Namor again” and hopes that he is the one she loves. Sue wonders why Namor doesn’t see that Dorma is the one he should love. Johnny asks Ben if he thinks he could beat Namor in a fair fight. Ben says, “Just one clobber and I’d be Sweetums the First, King of the whole shebang!”

So, what’s missing? Only page 14 panel 6, page 15 panels 1-5, and, unfortunately page 8 which is one of those cool Kirby collages.

This story is the start of Namor’s rehabilitation. Just a couple of years before, he’s teaming up with Dr. Doom to destroy the FF. In 8 months, he’ll have his own series in Tales to Astonish. As such, Stan and Jack walk a thin line. How to make Namor sympathetic but still his annoying imperial self? Create a villain in Attuma who is nastier than he is. Send Dorma out to recruit the Fantastic Four. Then keep Namor ignorant of the FF’s participation. It mostly works, though Namor is still a jerk by the end, Attuma turns out to be a bit of a pushover, and Atlantis is, apparently, on a sand bar only a couple of hundred feet below the surface. In its original form, I’d give this three webs, even with the sand bar, but without the Kirby collage, I have to lower it to two webs.

The final story in the book is Calamity on the Campus! from Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #35; the reason we are reviewing this book to begin with. I gave the story four webs in my review, saying, “Great stuff but the FF series has plenty better.” The original story has three panels of Peter Parker but there is only one panel of Peter here. (If they’d cut out that last panel, we wouldn’t have had to review this book at all.) Here’s how I described the three panels in my FF #35 review: “The Thing and the Human Torch are crossing the lobby of one of the University's buildings when they pass by Peter Parker. The Thing, for some reason, feels compelled to point Peter out. "Looka that, Shorty!" he tells the Torch, "There's another mixed-up lookin' half-pint! I'll bet he's waitin' for someone to take his pink little handie and lead 'im outa here!" Peter, dressed up in a classy purple suit, thinks, "Uh oh! There's the Thing and that swell- headed Torch! Maybe they won't notice me if I walk right by!" And why should they notice him to begin with? Because, as the Torch thinks, "Hey! I know who that is! It's Peter Parker, the guy Dorrie tried to get friendly with till I put the kibosh on him!" ("Dorrie" is, of course, Johnny's girl friend Dorrie Evans and the event in question took place, you'll recall, in Amazing Spider-Man #21, February 1965. Johnny's belief that he "put the kibosh" on Pete is solely his own opinion.) In the ensuing panel, the Thing decides to actually stop and talk to Peter. The Torch stands behind, his hand covering his mouth and thinking, "I wonder if he's planning to enroll at State U. when he finishes High School? If he does, he better stay outta my way while he's here!" while the Thing asks Pete, "Say, sonny, didja see anything of a tall drink of water who looks like his idea of a lotta fun would be to get shipwrecked on a desert island with a slide rule?" Pete replies, "If you mean Reed Richards, I noticed him on the football field giving a demonstration.” In the final panel of Pete's appearance, Johnny decides to open his yap. "By the way, Parker" he says, "What are you doing here? I'm not giving out autographs today!" "You couldn't pay me to take one of yours, bird-brain" says Pete as he starts to walk away, "I came to see about enrolling for next year but if you're gonna be here, forget it!" The Thing gets irked by Pete's talk. "Hey" he says, "I'm the only one who can talk to Torchy like that!" But Johnny calls the Thing off. "Relax, Ben!" he says, "It makes him feel like a big man, because he knows I wouldn't fight with a nobody like him!" Pete, though, thinks to himself, "Some day you're gonna find out who this nobody really is, son and you'll know it!"” This is all great stuff but only the first panel is reproduced here, so the Thing points Peter out to Johnny who recognizes him and then the scene moves on and it all comes to nothing.

So, what else is missing? Page 2 panels 3-5 and page 3 panel 1 with Professor X and Cyclops. And that is it! So, not much damage to the story except that it wipes out two-thirds of Peter’s appearance so I’m taking it down to three webs.

Oh, I did say I’d get back to that Sub-Mariner pin-up from FF #33, didn’t I? It’s reprinted at the end of the book. There’s also an ad for Marvel Comics, titled, “Don’t live in a cultural wasteland!” and a come-on for the other Pocket Books in this set. Don’t worry. You don’t have to collect them. We won’t be dealing with any more of these.

In General...

What to do with these Pocket Books? Originally just reprints, they have become classics in their own right even though they absolutely butcher the stories, eliminating pages, destroying the pacing by placing two panels per page, changing them to black and white, and forcing the reader to turn the book sideways to read it. How crummy. How collectible!

Overall Rating...

If we do an average, it comes out to 3 webs. But forget the rating. The real question is, “is it worth tracking down?” If you’re a fanatic for 60s Marvel collectibles, as I am, then snap this one up. Otherwise…there are so many better reprints of these stories out there. Pick those up and give this one a pass.

Footnote...

Next: A neat little hardcover oddity from the UK, featuring original (as far as I know) text stories of Spidey, the FF, and others. The Marvel Story Book Annual!

Will we ever get back to actual Amazing Spider-Man issues again? I’m trying, I’m trying!