Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fantastic Four #30 demonstrates why you should never go on any vacation Reed Richards plans for you

You'd have to be crazy to go on a Reed Richards-planned vacation.  For one thing, there's no such thing as a leisurely Reed Richards-planned vacation because Reed's idea of leisure is to culture bacteria or tinker with a device to allow inter-dimensional travel.  Those are his spare time activities.  He does really heavy-duty stuff when he's working.

For another, if at the moment he's interested in traveling, he's not going to set up a Hawaiian itinerary or a couple of weeks in the Riviera, although he could easily afford either with all his patent money and licensing fees.  No, he's going to take the whole party to Transylvania so he can do a little field research.

Check out what he does to his friends Sue, Ben and Johnny in Fantastic Four #30 (September 1964).  Reed drags them all the way behind the Iron Curtain-- and I thought the guy absolutely despised communism-- for a visit to Dracula country.  Stan Lee's narration calls Transylvania a "kingdom," but that was true only in his active imagination, no doubt full of Bram Stoker-inspired fantasies.  In reality, during the time frame of the Fantastic Four's ill-fated visit, Transylvania, as part of Romania, had only recently emerged from under direct Soviet control and established a certain level of political and economic independence from the USSR, it labored under the rule of Georghe Gheorghiu-Dej, a hardline communist and former Stalinist who instituted one of the harshest regimes in Eastern Europe.

It also harbored anachronistic alchemists like Diablo, with his green horned cowl and jaunty purple tights.

The first thing Reed does on this so-called vacation is to lose the team deep in the Transylvanian forests.  He does this so quickly, Kirby and company don't even bother with set-up.  There's no Baxter Building prelude where Ben and Johnny get into a fight and Reed intervenes only to have Sue step in and tell everyone they're only squabbling because they've got cabin fever and need some time off.  Nope, right from the splash page they're lost and the only explanation for the how and why we get is in a caption.  Anyway, Reed is probably faking it so he can surreptitiously search for a rare slime mold or fungus from which he can synthesize a chemical he needs.  It is a scenic forest, though.

There are few inkers I enjoy on Jack Kirby so much as I do Chic Stone.  Chic Stone makes Kirby's art look like a cartoon, and I mean that in the best sense of the word.  Take that cover, for example.  Check out how Kirby and Stone depict the transitional, less-rocky Thing-- thick contour line around the outside, dotted lines on the inside.  And bald.  Also, how cool is it on the splash page that Ben is plucking a tree right out of the ground while complaining about the very topic of this blog post?  The tree's not even in his or anyone else's way; it's just there for the plucking.  This is fun.  Comic visuals that are pure fun.

But look at Reed stretching himself out there, pretending he doesn't know exactly where they are and what he's doing.  A few moments later, he's all like, "Hey, look, gang!  I found a ruined castle I totally never suspected was here all along!  Why don't we... oh, I don't know... investigate it?"  Obviously, Reed wasn't after just some botanical specimens...

Then this Baron Hugo character shows up and tells them to stop being lost before they hurt someone or disturb something best left undisturbed and that they can sleep over at his house.  That night, Ben sneaks out into the forest and-- in a creepy sequence that anticipates Mike Mignola's Hellboy-- goes to an ancient castle where he pulls a giant stone stopper out of some kind of cylindrical stone architectural feature for which I don't know the name.  The narration refers to it as a "crypt."  Well, okay.  This frees our old pal, Diablo.  Diablo, the Transylvanian alchemist with the Spanish name that means "devil."

It doesn't take Diablo long to exploit festering personal divisions within the FF, using his chemicals to restore a limited humanity to the Thing, with a promise of more to come.  That's all it takes for the disgruntled Ben to turn his back on tour guide failure Reed Richards and declare himself Diablo's buddy-for-life.  Diablo goes on a chemical rampage, rejuvenating a geriatric millionaire named Featherstone (he wears a top hat!), transforming the Iranian desert blossom into a floral wonderland, raking in the money with government contracts and using Ben as overseer to exploit local labor.

Reed, smarter than your average alchemist, soon discovers Diablo's formulas are all phony-- suddenly, the blossoming deserts revert to their infertile state, the millionaire ends up hospitalized for an advanced case of being a moldy old bastard and the anti-missile shield (don't know how a chemical potion produces something like that and wisely no one bothers to even try to explain it).  And poor Ben has his heart broken yet again.

With the tacit approval of the United Nations itself, the Fantastic Three spring into action, only end up trapped in glass vials.  Ben redeems himself and Reed promptly gets them lost in the woods yet again.  Because he still hasn't found the prized fungus, no doubt.  And I have no doubt this is exactly the way things played out in Reed Richards's mind before they even left New York.

Some vacation!  That's the kind of crappy vacation experience you're going to have if you let Reed Richards choose your destination.  The man's a workaholic, I tell you.  Doesn't know how to have fun.  Or where.  Now if you want me, it's summer vacation for me, too, and I'll be spending a fabulous fortnight in glamorous Pyongyang, cosmopolitan capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  I hear it's a swingin' town and a real shopper's paradise!

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