Fantastic Four #44 is one of the most momentous comics in all of the long history of the form. In this issue Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are joined by Joe Sinnott on inks which seems almost at once to make the complete FF package feel somehow more mature. Also, the storytelling changes as the FF seems to go from a comic book with discrete stories with beginnings, middles and ends and rather becomes more fully a soap opera with overlapping plots and characters pieces which communicate a grander epic feel.
Madame Medusa reappears in this issue and we meet a more sympathetic character, less the cackling villain and more a woman who is afraid of some unspoken threat. She seeks help from the Human Torch and the rest of the Fab 4. Then comes a mysterious character called "Gorgon" who uses his mighty hoofed feet and great strength to track down Medusa. A battle in a condemned area of the city brings the team low as Gorgon looks triumphant.
But the threat only gets more serious in the next issue as we finally encounter mysterious super-powered beings called "The Inhumans". Johnny Storm, the Human Torch runs across a mysterious girl named Crystal and her connection to the Inhumans is not immediately apparent. He appears to fall for her on first sight.
The Fantastic Four find themselves up against beings who are powerful and strange and elusive. That final quality, the secretive aspect of the Inhumans is one of the key elements of the fascination with them. With names plucked from myth like Medusa, Gorgon, Triton, Karnak and Crystal they feel important, but unfathomable. As they Fab 4 confront the reality of these new beings in the streets of NYC, they come up against the most powerful Inhuman of all.
Black Bolt is different. He doesn't talk and that in the Marvel Universe where loquacious trash talking is akin to godliness, the taciturn demeanor of Black Bolt stands out. It makes him enigmatic and more of a pure element of force and power.
The Fantastic Four take the measure of the Inhumans and then the Seeker appears and takes them all away to the Great Refuge leaving the Fab 4 to ponder the mystery of these strange compelling creatures.
The FF follow the clues to the Great Refuge, hidden at this point in time in the high peaks of the Andes. There they find a complete culture hidden away from humankind and filled with fascinating super beings. And here things get really confusing as I suspect the back story of the Inhumans was adjusted. The Royal Family had been in exile (for years they say at one point) and pursued by the Seeker who serves Maximus, the mad brother of Black Bolt who has usurped his throne. But when the Royals return to the Refuge, they are immediately welcomed back and it seems that Black Bolt is seen as the legitimate leader. It was a boomerang for sure.
And then they slide into the background as the concepts Kirby was cranking out were coming faster than a single monthly comic book could handle. The story of the Inhumans is interrupted when Maximus activates the "Negative Zone", an devastating wall which isolates the Great Refuge, cutting it off from the larger world. The FF are barely able to escape before the Zone closes.
Johnny Storm pines for his new love Crystal but the FF move on quickly as the threat of Galactus appears in the skies over the world. The Inhuman saga will continue as a subplot in the next year or so of the Fantastic Four comic.
More on that tomorrow.