Journey Into Marvel – Part 47
Extremites, the 1950s were a period of great film. Every writer, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg in their formative years ,strolled down to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and took in a matinee B-Film. The crazy plots, full of monsters eating hapless hot-rodding teenagers and invasions of aliens wearing lycra suits, washed over their eyes and infected their minds. The creativity that flooded the 80s was seeded in the darkness of the 50s movie house. B-Films embrace two dimensionality, juvenility, and action over substance, to entice an army of kids to populate the movie theatres every weekend.
Likewise comics, once a medium that focused on the exploits of legendary comic gods like Superman, Batman, and Captain America, were forced to headline schlocky ‘monster of the week plots’ to bring in the 12 cents from the 10 year olds. This problem halted comic book creativity for years.
At Martin Goodman’s comic book company: Atlas Comics, times were hard for Stan Lee’s team. Lee was forced to reject the far more satisfying plots of Captain America and the Sub-Mariner for tales of mole creatures and marauding mindless aliens to make ends meet. Even after this change in creative direction, Stan had to fire most of his staff because of poor sales.
Atlas changed to Marvel.
The Marvel Age of Comics was born.
This issue of the Fantastic Four is when Stan Lee said ‘no more’ to Marvel Comic’s 1950s B-Title exploitative ways. (Well, until everyone got lazy, circa 1969.)
When the Fantastic Four debuted in 1961, their entry was greeted with some criticism by the few who read them. They were unlike any characters that had come before in that they were selfish, prone to squabbling, and ignorant of the higher goals of the superhero. Though these characters had balanced moral compasses, they often allow their baser instincts to govern their actions. Thing would rather spend time beating on his favourite punching bag, the Human Torch, than devote his mind to saving the world. Many people who read the comic thought Fantastic Four, while novel, was a passing fad and comics as a whole were empty-headed nothingness. Kurggo represents this narrow opinion of the comic book’s pointless B-title past and the derision that ‘discerning’ people had for comics.
Coming off the victory of defeating a tag teem of villains, the Fantastic Four are receiving an award from congress when a space ray assaults the Earth. The laser beam turns every human against the team and the Four become outcasts. Kurrgo, Master of Mysterious Planet X is behind this attack and he’s doing it so he can capture the Four. At introduction, Kurrgo with his furry demeanour and campy planet scream 1950s B-Titles. As he espouses his plan to turn Earth against the team in an extended soliloquy one can imagine a great B-Movie face like Sterling Hayden behind the words.
The whole defamation and kidnap plan turns out to be a plea by Kurrgo for Mr. Fantastic to return to Planet X and help the Xians stop an asteroid from demolishing their planet. On top of this it seems that the planet has two spaceships with which to vacate the furry race. The Xians “have no interest in space travel.” After a ploy by the captive Reed Richards and a shrinking elixir, Kurrgo’s race is shrunken to fit on a diminutive space ship. Kurrgo is left out of that ship to die in the oncoming asteroid impact. In this act, Stan Lee through Reed Richards has abandoned Fantastic Four’s B-Title association.
Kurggo is a name that has appeared a few times in the history of Marvel. During the 1950s, the name belonged to a subterranean monster who terrorized people by opening his gullet and gobbling them into oblivion. Kurrgo is now the Master of Planet X. It is no coincidence that the Master and monster share the same name.
Two B-plot monsters have now been done away with in the short tenure of the Four. The Moleman’s monster, which looks like many 1950s prototypes, was abandoned on an island to be destroyed by a blast. Kurrgo was left to die on his doomed planet. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have said ‘no more’ to tired B-movie plots.
And so begins the more satisfying plots of the Fantastic Four.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “It Came from the Skies!” (Fantastic Four #7 Oct. 1962)
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Jack Kirby’s art is colourful and detailed, All characters are treated with a deft hand and feel developed, there is some good humour in this one. Reed Richards is finally allowed to headline a title.
Cons: Campiness of Kurrgo. The defamation plot seems like page filler. The whole plot seems haphazard.
Upcoming Review: “Trapped by Loki, The God of Mischief!” (Journey Into Mystery #85 Oct. 1962)
Former Review: “The Mighty Thor vs. the Executioner” (Journeu Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)