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Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, like Rodney Dangerfield, go back to school and tear that bitch up – The Fantastic Four #35

June 1, 2012

Who among us hasn’t yearned to return to the stomping grounds of yore, the scenes of our youth, and battle a fire-breathing dwarf-armed dragon?

Count this as one of the more enjoyable and unique slices of Silver Age stupidity. It has it all. Mr. Fantastic and the ever-lovin’ Thing taking a trip down memory lane. The Thing roughhousing with collegiate gridders. Snarky cameos by out of costume Marvel superstars. A lesser villain and the first appearance of a dumb beast character who thinks he’s people. Sue Storm, as usual, saying one of the dumbest goddamn things a sentient creature has ever uttered. The lesser villain trying a speed skating getaway. Odd allusions to Jayne Mansfield. And Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (and Dick Ayers and Chic Stone doing the respective cover/interior inks) proving that they could take a situation as mind-numbingly mundane as someone else’s campus visit and turn it into some manner of comic book gold. There’s a newsprint alchemy at play here.

The set up is Reed making a triumphant return to State University (where he met Ben) as one of the great scientific minds in the world. He’s invited to come back and make a speech. WONDERFUL. And the Fantastic Four arrive on campus with their Fantasticar piled so high with luggage it looks like the Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy — where’s Buddy Ebsen and Granny?:

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the coeds are nestling up to Reed like he’s Professor Indiana Jones. After all, he had the George Clooney gray temples before George Clooney had gray temples.

One of the nice little quirks in this issue is that it has a couple of cameos by leading Marvel figures, unrecognized by the Four but ever so obvious to devoted Marvelites. (Marvel was knee-deep in cross-pollination at this point — to their financial benefit and the augmentation of our enjoyment.) Professor X at least has the stink of academe all over him, making his presence on a college campus somewhat organic, and the wheelchair-pushing Scott Summers is along for the ride (so to speak), too-cool ruby shades and all:

And lo, there shall be a Parker. Peter is scoping out State as a potential home for his web-fluid-inventing genius, and he and the Torch, well into their early rivalry — you have to hand it to Peter, he managed to piss off Johnny both in his Spider-Man guise AND his civilian togs — exchange pleasantries:

Kirby really brought out the egg-head in Parker. His cranium looks positively Leader-ish. Though not quite as obscene.

While Reed is getting ready to address a teeming throng of students (having waded through enormous globs of Mr. Fantastic expositionary dialogue over the years, I cannot imagine that any human being could sit still under the barrage of his droning for more than five minutes), Ben plays grabass with the State U. football squad (no sign of Bert LaBrucherie or his bowl of Wheaties). It’s hogpiles gone wild, at least until Sue butts in:

MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, WOMAN.

The comic’s action comes pre-installed with the misappropriated Dragon Man, a ghoulish sculpture developed by a scientist at the University, one that stands in a long, proud line of monsters wearing underwear, and one that’s eventually animated and unleashed by Diablo. (Such a Diablo thing to do, too.) He rampages through Reed’s speech, forcing the Four into action. They manage to get the creature off campus — though not before precious ivy-coated masonry is harmed — and, when away from the student body, Reed whips out some dubious science as Sue confirms that she’s an absolute f–king idiot:

Sue, you are really stretching, and I’m not talking about the kind that Reed does. Very few times in human history has a person confronted an out of control monster with hard behavioral science culled from myths and old movies, but there Sue goes. Oh, and by the way, the King Kong of the original film, which I’m pretty sure was the ONLY King Kong film at this point, kidnapped the blonde broad on multiple occasions and imperiled her life at every turn. When he wasn’t casually hurling other people to their deaths. Sue, what I’m saying is, STEP AWAY FROM THE DRAGON MAN.

Turns out I’m the idiot, because her loony kindness pierces Dragon Man’s simple mind, and he turns on Diablo. Diablo, whose freezing potion (yes, he had a freezing potion, as well as a nice white lab coat) was knocked out of his hand and froze a lake. Diablo, whose general ineffectiveness gives us this wonderfully silly panel, as he tries to Dan Jansen his way out of danger:

Insert high-pitched Curly Howard “WOO-WOO-WOO” sound effects as desired.

Dragon Man and Diablo are sucked into the bowels of the Earth in one of the more preposterous of all possible fates for them, and then we come to our conclusion. While Reed and Sue are off canoodling in Lover’s Lane or some other nonsense, the students and school administrators make some odd Jayne Mansfield references to the other half of the departing four:

What, no “Thanks for saving our school and trashing it in the process!” banners? AND WHAT WAS WITH ALL THE LUGGAGE? A four hour visit doesn’t require a Catherine the Great baggage train, at least not in my experience.

This is yet another of the many instances in Silver Age Marvel where even the faults only add to the lustre. Lee’s script is goofy in the extreme, but which of his weren’t back then? People lapped this stuff up. Still do. And could Kirby do any wrong at this point in his career? He was finishing off pages of art at such a clip I have a mental image of him throwing completed pages over his shoulder like shovelfuls of dirt tossed by a dude digging a hole. He worked faster than John Henry, the Steel-Drivin’ Man. Yet the art could be so expressive. Look at those panels in the “Sue’s a moron” scans above. Dragon Man looks like the sort of creature that could whimper like a kid. WAAH.

Anyway, thanks, Stan and Jack. Thanks for showing us that even comic book characters can go home again and TOTALLY OWN the haunts of old.

This comic, like all of the classic Silver Age Four books, has been reprinted dozens of times, including in the Marvel Masterworks collections and the mammoth Omnibi. As always, it comes highly recommended.

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