Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers; a combo to conjure with. This was one of their utmost!
Skrulls are certifiably my favourite Marvel alien. I amuse myself with the idea of the Skrull/Bizarro War, a crossover where one empire/nation/planet/pack of bozos doesn't realise they're having a war until halfway through. The Skrulls, of course, are the ones in on it since they did the declaring.
FANTASTIC FOUR #18 gave us the first appearance of my favourite Urgly Green Frog Alien, the Super Skrull. Between Lee/Kirby and what Steve Englehart later did with him in his SILVER SURFER run, he's always been on The List.
It's January 1964, and the Fantastic Four are gathered about a rather humble looking television. Not everything in the Baxter Building looks like it was dreamed up by a brainy Martian. The newscast is about the defeat dealt to Doctor Doom in FANTASTIC FOUR #17. A photo of Ben Grimm is promised in one breath and then preempted by an ad for dogfood in the next. What, Ben happy? "I was robbed!!"
and it's the truth.
He jumps up and down like Baby Huey and narrowly saves the television from smashing though everyone else is tumbled over. Tensions slide and soon Reed Richards and Susan Storm are off on a swimming expedition to Hawaii. It's half and hour in an ICBM-principled rocket Reed has fashioned as a passenger conveyance. From the modest telly to a grandiose rocket display, we're sliding into position. And Ben Grimm is waving his fist rather than his hand as Reed and Sue journey up into it to depart. "Look, Great White Father... If you think I got nothin' better to do than wet-nurse that blazing brat, you're nuts!"
Only Steve Gerber ever
wrote the Thing in a way that competed with Stan Lee's perfection.
There's a panel on page three showing Johnny and Ben climbing into their own air transport. Johnny's wheeled whiz-wagon is going to go for a flirt in Central Park. Ben, in his tinier tub, is off to pick up his gal, Alicia Masters, for a spot of "fishin'.
(Lucky woman?) Then we find ourselves traveling into the Skrull Empire, into the military kingdom with the Emperor himself. They're in the Fifth Quadrant of the Andromeda Galaxy if you're ever out that way. The Emperor has been brooding. He wants their heads for thwarting the initial Skrull invasion of FANTASTIC FOUR #2. It's quite Roman when the Super Skrull makes his hailing appearance in the palace, with the Big Chief moaning proudly like Caligula: "For this, I have emptied our treasury, devoted all our scientific talents, worked people like slaves... for the moment."
I've said it already, but I'll say it again: Enter the Super Skrull. The next two and a bit pages demonstrate his powers visually. He is indeed a One-Man Fantastic Four.
One week after, the Fractious Four are out shopping together. Johnny thinks it must be a gas to work in a department store like this with so many chicks. "Chicks, shmicks! I'm gonna go buy me a bowlin' ball."
It isn't long until their "mere presence" creates shopping pandemonium.
A radio broadcast gets their appropriate distraction. There are aliens landing in Times Square. No one thinks of Orson Welles. Ben, decked out in heavy black shades, hat, scarf and trenchcoat, barks, his gob open like a small cartoon abyss: "Now's our chance to make like heroes! What're we waiting for?"
No wonder this book is so comparable to the DOOM PATROL. (Which, in turn, is comparable to THE X-MEN.)
The FF have yet to evade the crowds of people thrilled by them. They flit through them in characteristic form. Ten blocks away, in the last panel of page eight, we see the Super Skrull claiming Earth for the Skrulls. He plants a flag, as proud as Edmund Hillary. Earthlings of Times Square surround him. Their prattle browns him off and he expels them. The Emperor and his top flight flunkie watch the ensuing damage on an impressive oval cinema. They see Johnny fly in, the Super Skrull running rings of complimentary fire around him. Almost like the song, the Skrulls says "Anything you can do, Torch, I can do better!"
He smothers the Torch in a battery of heavy black briquettes. A huge flaming mace knocks him out of the sky and Reed Richards does his rubbery best to save his teammate.
The Thing, meanwhile, is still stuck in the department store. The Idol o' Millions smooths out an escalator and slides like a toboggan to freedom. He hopes "...ol' Killjoy hasn't taken care of the alien yet."
He certainly hasn't. Mr Fantastic wraps the Skrull up like a carpet but he's soon ballooned out in total excess and has to extricate himself with a terrible snap. Forming a hammer, The Skrull pulls in a solid mound of Palisades rock with his own stretching power and Thing-like strength. The Thing finally enters the picture as Reed hurts himself. This is your great stuff right here! The Super Skrull forms a goat-headed battering ram that knocks the Thing across the street, across the city, to catch hold of the art deco pinnacle of the Chrysler Building. Mr Fantastic and the Human Torch engage their enemy again. (The Torch recovered so fast because the Invisible Woman spent every second nursing him. I admit to mildly cringing here. And thank God John Byrne later got her to rename herself the Invisible Woman - but that's many moons ahead of FF #18...)
Invisible, the Super Skrull is able to wrap Johnny in blazing chains of concentrated super-heat. A helicopter is rescuing Benjamin. Still invisible, the imaginative alien fires fireball arrows at the physically reunited team. They head back to headquarters. The Skrull crows and gloats and lets them go. A classic mistake. The brain of Richards wasn't as legendary then as it became. Back in the lab, the brain of the Fantastic Four quickly deduces the situation - "...I've been checking the heavens for unusual manifestations and I've picked up some ultra-sonic rays beamed to Earth from the Fifth Quadrant."
I doubt ultra-sonics has much to do with the applicable science, but that's what no-prizes were for. Reed then jerry-rigs a jammer. They're going to cut his water off, blanketing out the energy transmissions.
Playing on the Super Skrull's pride, Richards challenges him to a match in a distant, deserted crater. The Skrull is ahead of the Pogo Plane in reaching the isle setting. He announces that he will have taken care of them in sixty seconds. He starts taking them down with Skrull mesmerism. The Invisible "Girl" is able to successfully sneak up on him and plant the device. Suddenly, he is giddy and weak. At the other end, on the Skrull planet, there is bitterness and denial. The Alien-interrupted falls into the volcanic cone and the Torch seals him in.
Reed says that Johnny comes in handy, Susan that "I guess we all have our uses, Reed"
and Ben Grimm that "Yeah, I'd make somebody a snazzy paperweight."
The sinewy inks of Dick Ayers really sets this era apart.
Reading: I'm making the DOOM PATROL SHOWCASE last - it's well worth it. Also JSA #1-60. Up to about JSA #38 is my favourite superhero-team comics of this decade, taking over from Busiek and Perez's MIGHTY AVENGERS which dates back to 1998, anyway. Steve Sadowski is statuesque, Rags Morales an exquisite match and Leonard Kirk a fast learner. (His work on CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI:13 is miles ahead of his work on SUPERGIRL.) The newer characters grow on me more each time I reread these, though there's no beating Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Hawkman and Wildcat. I loved the way no one could successfully expel Black Adam. The Submariner-Type just hung around like a gauze thread no one could pick, insisting he was on the team. Favourite villains: Johnny Sorrow (easily) and the Ultra Humanite.
Listening: Led Zep, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Mazzy Star, MGMT, Johnny Cash, Nik Cave, Marianne Faithful...
Watching: Coctaeu's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ORPHEUS. To use the often disputable and overtly cliche term for this kind of exhilarating work, they're genius. They truly are. What argument could there be against it? Also: AT THE EARTH'S CORE with Doug McClure and Peter Cushing. McClure battles polystyrene and Cushing lays on the British stereotype with a hamfisted trowel - all to great effect. It's a rip-roarer! Pellucidar never looked so 70's.
RIP: Farrah Fawcett Majors