Let the first FF/X-Men meeting guide the (potential) cinematic crossover – Fantastic Four #28
A great stir was created several weeks ago by a little blurb from scribe and FOX/Marvel consultant/éminence grise Mark Millar. He alluded to the potential for FOX’s Marvel properties — the Fantastic Four and the X-Men — to have a crossover at some point in the near future. Granted, the big upcoming “crossover” between the old and new X-Men casts hasn’t hit screens yet, and yes, they haven’t even gotten around to rebooting the up till now mishandled FF franchise (though a do-over is in the works). But the white-hot success of Marvel’s in-house The Avengers has made cinematic conglomerations the order of the day. Finally the corporate bean-counters’ reticence to combine properties (Why have one movie when you can have two?) has been overcome, which was long the primary financial obstacle to comic book movies most closely embodying the colorful mishmash of shared universes. There’s been a recognition of combos being greater than the sum of their parts, hence a Superman sequel with Batman in it. Huzzah! Rejoice and make merry!
With the intriguing possibility of Ben Grimm nose to nose with Logan (one hopefully still played by the enthusiastic Hugh Jackman) fresh on our minds, now is an excellent time to harken back to the very first newsprint meeting of the Four and Charles Xavier’s gifted youngsters. And whaddayou know, I just happened to have a copy sitting on my desk here in the HQ. Who wins when the two original Marvel super-teams throw down? We do, folks. We do.
And yes, as you can see by the above cover, not only does this comic feature good-on-good contretemps, it also has the Awesome Android in it. Which is spectacular. We all love the Awesome Android, no matter if he’s serving evil or going straight and working at She-Hulk’s law firm, sort of filling the Benny/L.A. Law role. Two things come to mind from that cover: First, one of the great comic covers of my youth was Captain America 311, in which Mr. Rogers buried his shield in the Android’s big clay noggin. Awesome — pun intended. Second, the Android has fingernails, which I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed before. This seems like an odd detail to include on a creation that lacks eyes, ears and a nose, but hey, whatever, you know? (One wonders if when Reed Richards designed him, he penciled in the junk just after the fingernails, which is why AA wears his purple skirt. Actually one doesn’t wonder that. You know what, forget I brought it up.)
This is of course, since it’s a Fantastic Four comic from the initial 100-issue run, a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby masterpiece (inked in this instance by Chic Stone). ‘Nuff said. The action opens with the Four lounging, in full costume, in their well-appointed high-rise pad. Alicia Masters has just unveiled a quite lovely statue of Ben (You wonder if Mr. Grimm ever thinks to himself Oh great, another one?), while Reed and Sue peruse the newspaper. Apparently it was a heavy X-Men news day, since they’re on the front, back and inside of the damn thing (like A-Rod and the Daily News) — and Johnny is there to remind us readers that this won’t strictly be the first meeting between Four and mutant:
Fire and Ice is, after all, an irresistible combination.
Meanwhile a villainous duo is a-borning. The Puppet Master and his tweezed eyebrows join forces with the Mad Thinker (with his caterpillary brows) and his Awesome Valet:
What’s the big plan the Mad Thinker has cooked up? For the Puppet Master to take one of his magic little voodoo dolls, mold it into an effigy of Professor X, and thereby gain control of the most potent mutant mind on Earth. Two things: One, this doesn’t seem like all that genius of a plan, but then again, sometimes great minds uncover what’s staring the rest of us square in the face. Two, isn’t this kind of scary? Kind of like Superman going nuts? Has Xavier ever done the equivalent of what Superman did by giving Batman a failsafe Kryptonite ring? Like giving Dr. Strange some trepanning tools? Because, as we’re about to see, he might want to look into that.
The puppet proxy is constructed, Xavier’s will is overcome (in a contest reminiscent of Spider-Man struggling under heavy machinery in Amazing #33), and Xavier is forced to mentally command the X-Men to battle the Fantastic Four. The X-Men find this a bit out of character, but they go along with it because orders are orders.
If you’re catching a whiff of the Milgram experiment here, your nose isn’t leading you astray. Nor is it doing so if you’re sniffing the stench of Nuremberg-esque “I was just following orders” excuses.
Off the X-Men go, entering the Four’s HQ with smiles and charm (just look at what Kirby does with simple poses and posture in this one panel — a true master):
Things soon go purposefully awry, and it’s quite naturally Ben and his Yancy Street diction that bears the goofy brunt of the assault. To wit:
To wit again:
The X-Men’s purpose here is to kidnap the Invisible Girl — our heroes, ladies and gentlemen — and use her as a lure to draw the remaining Fantastic Three into a trap. Done and done. In a faraway field the Four are ensnared, and the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker reveal themselves as the drivers of this insidious scheme. This cues a lot of X-Men chagrin, embarrassment, and hard-earned ohmanweshouldhaveknown head-slapping. They deserve worse.
A diversion: I once read an article about strange fetishes, and one of the oddest of the odd was an amalgam/adjunct of foot fetishism and macrophilia, in which guys get turned on by women stepping on small figures, like your typical denizens of a box of men. Whatever gets you off, so long as it’s not child, corpse or creature — but geez, you know? (Less savory — or more unsavory, as it were — versions of this fetish have the women kill small living things in such a manner, which is truly sick.) Anyway, I imagine Beast’s hairy, apish clodstomper crushing the Xavier voodoo doll is a bridge too far for most:
With Xavier’s mental control thus broken, the X-Men and the Four team up to battle the Android. It’s a battle — and panel — worthy of any of the great Justice League vs. Starro/Shaggy Man/etc. conflagrations:
Wacky combat ensues, and the combined might of the two original House of Ideas super-teams is enough to win the day. Villains are bested, Androids are subdued, and muck-ups are explained. The two groups part on good terms like this is some minor fender-bender, which is remarkably magnanimous on the part of the Four. And we, the readers, exit the narrative with a little bit better understanding of why mutants weren’t all that trusted in the old days of the Marvel-616.
Despite the X-follies, this fits right into the stupendous overall pattern of the Lee/Kirby FF collaboration — which we’ve glimpsed time and time again here on the blog. It goes without saying that if you haven’t perused these bedrock tales, you should really get on that. There’s no shortage of collections and omnibi to be had, that much is certain. The Four and the X-Men have crossed paths many more times in the decades since, mostly as allies, though sometimes as momentary adversaries — 1987’s Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men mini being a prime right-there-in-the-title example of the latter. Never, though, has it all been so adeptly handled as it is here. You never forget your first.
20th Century Fox, take note. Please.