Fantastic Four #126-128
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #126, Fantastic Four #127, Fantastic Four #128
Actually, it starts off even darker, with Mr. Fantastic using an image projector to envision his wife getting killed by Dr. Doom.
Then we have just about every possible iteration of characters bickering with each other. Sue vs. Johnny.
Sue vs. Reed.
Ben vs. Johnny.
Johnny vs. Reed.
Ben even manages to piss off Alicia.
The Fantastic Four are often thought of as a family, but it's clearly a dysfunctional family. The FF certainly had their internal strife under Stan Lee; it was in fact a hallmark of the early Marvel comics. But the intensity and frequency increase under Thomas and Conway to a large degree.
Anyway, after everyone else leaves the Baxter Building, the Thing uses Reed's image projector to relive the events of the FF's origin. It's not worth looking at the revisions since it starts off with a disclaimer from the Thing that since it's based on his memories it's not necessarily accurate anyway.
Then the Thing gets it into his head that the Mole Man can cure Alicia's blindness, so he heads off to Subterranea. Just to get it out of the way now: the Mole Man doesn't have a cure for blindness, and we learn that in a pretty offhand way; once we get into the Subterranea, the motivation for getting there is pretty much forgotten.
The Subterranea (i am thinking this is the first time it's actually called that) plot is really about further consolidating Marvel's underground civilizations. There had been a few mentions of Kala in various lettercols (also in Sub-Mariner) and Roy Thomas had been considering bringing her back but was holding off due to the number of other underground kingdoms that had already been introduced, and the unresolved question of how Kala's Atlantis related to the Sub-Mariner's. I guess ultimately the idea of using Kala was too good to pass up, because she's brought back here without any resolution of those issues. A footnote simply tells us that Kala's Atlantis is "of no direct relation to that of Namor's".
The story is that the Thing runs into Kala when he arrives in the underground.
She's on her way to marry the Mole Man, and she tells him that she'll help bury the hatchet between the Mole Man and him.
Based on what we last saw of the Mole Man in Captain America #135-136, i thought this was going to be a nice continuation of the Mole Man's redemption. But it turns out that whatever the Mole Man's general feelings about peace towards the surface world, he's still got a mad-on for the FF, so Kala helps capture the Thing...
...and the Mole Man uses some Atlantian technology to project an illusion over him so that when the rest of the FF arrive they think he's a monster.
About the rest of the FF arriving... the Human Torch hears about the Thing's departure from the Baxter Building's landlord, who's got his own gripes about the FF but no one will listen to him. The Torch contacts Reed and Sue, who are seemingly back to having a normal relationship...
...although when they arrive at the entrance to the underground, they are bickering again.
"So called perfect" marriage, eh? Who said that?
Anyway, Mr. Fantastic realizes that the monster is really Ben and uses his asbestos glove to stop the Torch from killing Ben. The team then arranges a plan for dealing with the Mole Man and Kala that includes Mr. Fantastic disguising himself as a Moloid.
Meanwhile, it turns out that the Mole Man has a brainwashed Tyrannus as a slave.
You may think that Tyrannus is still amnesiac due to his experience in the mists of Lethe from Uncanny X-Men #34, but we've actually seen Tyrannus moving about of his own free will since then.
But the Mole Man is naively confident about Kala's love for him, and he's not at all suspicious when Kala takes Tyrannus away to "perform whatever tasks my lady shall assign to you".
This ends as you would expect.
But what is surprisingly refreshing is Tyrannus' own double-cross. He's not interested in some lady. No one is beautiful enough for Tyrannus.
In all the confusion, the FF manage to stop whatever world conquering scheme the underground monarchs were plotting (so i guess the Mole Man hadn't relinquished his war on the surface world), Tyrannus is seemingly killed, Mole Man is obviously depressed, and it's not clear what happens to Kala.
There was also a Reverend Josiah Mandiz that the FF found imprisoned in the Mole Man's lair...
...presumably to perform the wedding, but while the Thing expresses some suspicion of him we don't really learn anything about him and i'm not even sure if he managed to escape!
My favorite line in the whole arc is this one from the Mole Man:
Scourge of the wine cellars!
Roy Thomas is at his best when merging various aspects of the Marvel universe, and this was a fun arc. As for the in-fighting, i have no problem with a realistic depiction of familial and marital strife, especially if it results in a more assertive Sue...
...but it's very heavy-handed and histrionic. I do like John Buscema's art although he has a bad habit of making everyone too muscular, which i especially don't like for Reed Richards.
Issue #128 also has a four page glossy full-color insert of pin-ups by Buscema. It seems to have been included to get around a price freeze implemented by Richard Nixon to combat inflation.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Fantastic Four #129-130 take place "a few short hours" after Reed and Sue leave Franklin at Whisper Hill in this arc.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show 1972 / Box 7 / EiC: Roy Thomas
1972 / Box 7 / EiC: Roy Thomas
FF 126 was reprinted as one of the Power Records comic adaptions. It was my first exposure to the FF and their origin.
Posted by: Chris | February 26, 2013 11:15 PM
Nice Brady Bunch pants on Alicia.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 3, 2013 5:11 PM
FF #126 was my first ever Marvel comics purchase. I was 12. It was the best jumping on point I ever made and I can remember where I bought it and what I thought about it. I remember I was (obviously foolishly) convinced Murphy Anderson did the art no matter what the credit said.
Just a few months later Marvel UK started with 'The Mighty World of Marvel' and I felt very lucky that I was able to read the about the Marvel Universe from the beginning, albeit in black and white.
Posted by: Dandy Forsdyke | May 17, 2013 11:50 AM
It was the same in Spain. There were Spanish Editions of every single Marvel series, but they all were printed in black and White until 1980.
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | May 17, 2013 12:05 PM
Stan Lee's Spider-Man newspaper strip will also feature the Mole Man bringing a reverend underground so that me might marry Aunt May. What is it with her?
Posted by: Max_Spider | May 28, 2014 1:23 PM
Since we're all reminiscing I'll add that my first FF comic was #114, given to me by a friend in elementary school when I was 10. I got #126 here as a back issue when I was 12 in intermediate school.
Me and a few of my school friends brought 1 or 2 comics to school each day stashed in our folders, and we'd show them off during recess and even during class. Teachers got wind of it and months later came up with a "Comic book trading" classroom club during lunch, to keep us more attentive during regular classes. By then it was anti-climactic. I was already hooked and recess was still our favorite buy-sell-trade time. I remember it all like it was yesterday.
A few notes on #126 here, I've never seen Sue and Reed look so happy (on one of the top panels with Franklin), and I always thought Tyrannus looked like Johnny's evil twin on his closeup on one of the lower panels. Always loved John B's art, but there's just something unsettling about making the villain too close of a resemblance to one of the heroes.
Posted by: Mike | July 12, 2014 4:39 PM
"I do like John Buscema's art although he has a bad habit of making everyone too muscular".
I am gonna assume then, fnord, that you, like me, can't stand John Romita Jr's work. Talk about too muscular!
No one is beautiful enough for Tyrannus, huh? Boy is he gonna be upset when he ends up in the body of The Abomination.
Posted by: Erik Beck | February 11, 2015 11:39 AM
I actually do like JRJR. But i agree that before he gets very stylized on X-Men he overdid the muscles on characters like Peter Parker (a very egregious example here). After that, though, his style is too abstract for me to worry about whether or not it looks like a realistic body.
No one is going to say his Superman is too muscular, in any event (Lookit those scrawny legs!).
Posted by: fnord12 | February 11, 2015 9:23 PM
I am really interested in the history behind the 4-page insert. As near as I can figure, Marvel was in direct violation of Nixon's price controls after December of 1971 (this is when they pulled back to 20 cents after the one-month fling with increased page counts and a 25-cent cover price). All through 1972 Marvel ran with the same page count but for 20 cents instead of the old 15 cents - a 33% price increase. Thus simply should not have been possible under the Nixon price controls in place that year. And to think they could make up for it by inserting four extra pages into one title for one month... well, I know Nixon's price controls were aimed at big sectors in the economy (food, energy, etc.). And I know that comic books couldn't have been very high on anyone's price control priority list. Still, fascinating to think that all through 1972, Marvel Comics were in direct violation of these regulations. DC on the other hand, doubled page counts and only increased prices by 66% - they were in compliance.
Again, I know that my interest in this is extremely esoteric but if anyone has any insight or further info, I'd really appreciate it!
And fnord, wonderful site. Thank you for many, many hours of enjoyment!
Posted by: Zeilstern | May 31, 2015 11:16 AM
This story really jettisons the Mole Man's sympathetic qualities; he's shown gloating over the deaths of his Moloids and he and Kala both boast that they're going to outdo Hitler by wiping out the population of the surface world. (The Hitler thing is actually in the dialogue, which is really, grossly trivializing in my eyes. YMMV.)
Given the (quite correct) points fnord has made in past about Thomas's use of characters like the Lady Liberators, Thomas prints a letter in issue #128 criticizing him for his constant attacks on women's lib and his use of feminists as villains; the editorial response is to point the reader towards Marvel's upcoming titles aimed at a female audience, with the boast that they're all written by women.
Of course, the very next issue will land us right back in Roy's "trouble zone" in these matters. I tend to see Thundra ' introduction and Sue's gripes with Reed in these stories as Thomas's efforts to address the criticism, albeit that I don't think they're terribly successful efforts.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 8, 2015 12:24 PM
When Roy writes the Mole Man again in the 1991 Subterranean Wars Annuals, he has his sympathetic qualities again- he's shown as regretting that Wonder Man had to kill some Moloids to stop some mutates. (Of course, WONDER MAN's willingness to kill some Moloids was arguably out of character, as we discussed in fnord's entry for that issue.)
Posted by: Michael | November 8, 2015 12:44 PM
Your point about page 1 of issue #126 is so true. Can it get much darker for the Invisible Girl than to have her husband use an image projector to envision her demise?
Posted by: Frightful Four fan | November 18, 2015 11:03 PM
In #128, there's a scene in which Ben compares himself to Lancelot and Sue to Guinevere. I find this an interesting metaphor considering what happens between those two in Arthurian legend, and because Ben's long-lost feelings for Sue were just referenced two issues earlier. Bringing up this love triangle serves to remind the reader of those early days of conflict between the team members, thus setting the stage for the squabbling that fnord points out will be a major theme going forward.
This also seems a good a place as any to praise John Buscema's work on this title, which has been really incredible. His version of Sue is perhaps my favorite, as it's the one that appears most often in my mind when I think of the character.
Posted by: TCP | April 25, 2016 1:04 PM
No one is beautiful enough for Tyrannus, huh? Boy is he gonna be upset when he ends up in the body of The Abomination.
Heck, he spends a considerable amount of time as the aged Des (as part of the Keepers) until the Living Flame finally restores his vitality in Hulk #243. It was a pretty rough 20 years or so for my (our?) favorite narcissist.
Posted by: Dan Spector | March 21, 2018 9:43 PM
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