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And Of Course – How Monster Comic Books Saved Planet Earth

In this feature I spotlight particularly outlandish/convoluted comic book plot resolutions.

Today we look at how Mr. Fantastic somehow used monster comic books to save Planet Earth!

Okay, so in Fantastic Four #2 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and George Klein), we first meet the Skrulls, alien shapeshifters who use their powers to make the Earth believe that the Fantastic Four are their enemies. This is part of their plan to get rid of the Fantastic Four because they have alien invasion fleet poised above the Earth ready to attack once the FF are dealt with.

The FF, though, capture the Skrulls and discover the stalemate…

ffskrullcomics1

Then Mister Fantastic comes up with a ludicrous plan that somehow actually works…

ffskrullcomics2

ffskrullcomics3

Of course, just one issue earlier, the Fantastic Four visited an ACTUAL island of monsters!! So they didn’t have to FAKE the story of Earth having monsters. But whatever, it worked!

NOTE: There is another interesting aspect to this story that I’ll reveal in an upcoming Provide Some Answers, so please hold off on that particular aspect of the story if you could in the comments. Thanks!

If you have a suggestion for an outlandish, convoluted or outlandishly convoluted comic book plot resolution, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com and I might feature it here in the future!

35 Comments

How is this different from “I love you but you’re strange?”

It’s about plot resolutions, not just odd comics in general. For instance, to pick one of my favorite “I Love Ya But You’re Strange”s off the top of my head, the story of Batman Jones wasn’t about a weird plot resolution.

There certainly IS some overlap in some of the stories, of course, but that’s the same for a few of the features.

Given how many times they meet up with Thor and Dr Strange et al, I’d expect ‘Journey Into Mystery’ and ‘Strange Tales’ to be true stories in the Marvel Universe anyway. (Not to mention you’ve already mentioned Monster Island.)

Le Messor- But this story was in the second issue of FANTASTIC FOUR. The FF had never met other super heroes. Marvel’s Thor and Doctor Strange didn’t even exist yet.

There’s also the issue that the Skrulls can’t tell the difference between a photograph and a page from a comic.

Plus doesn’t one of the captured Skrulls fly back with the mothership so only three stay on Earth?

At the time of FF2 Thor and Dr. Strange did not exist. So Marvel was not “licencing” them so JiM and Strange tales were not real. Except for any issues that include monsters like Groot who went on to a appear in “true” stories, which must be retroactively true.

Nice article, but I believe it should benoticed that Reed’s plan only worked beceuse the Skrulls had a convenient vision problem (myopia? astigmatism?) that would make the drawings more believable for them.

AAAnd… later they hypnotized the four skrull agents into shifting into cows… and then into believing they were real cows!

(That plan backfired years later when, under John Byrne’s pen, the milk from those skrull cows gave shapeshifting powers to the people from a whole small town AND also made them into a bunch of paranoid secretive maniacs prone to kill anyone who could uncover their secret. Coincidentially, a friend –or an ex?– of Johnny named Sharon, or Susan, wandered into there due to a broken car and, after being locked, manage to escape prison for a short period and call the FF, who, after a grim fight, managed to find out the cause of the problem and develop an antidote, making the town a peaceful place again.)

Nice article, but I believe it should benoticed that Reed’s plan only worked beceuse the Skrulls had a convenient vision problem (myopia? astigmatism?) that would make the drawings more believable for them.

That was revealed later on. At the time, Reed’s plan was seriously just to present drawings of monsters to convince them not to attack the Earth.

I wonder if Reed showed them TALES TO ASTONISH #13 with the Groot story…

@Le Messor
@Alaric Shapli

But even now that they’ve met Thor and Doctor Strange, it’s well documented that Marvel Comics exists within Marvel comics. Captain America was the artist on Captain America comics, She-Hulk established that comics can be used as evidence in court cases, and there was an event in the early 2000s called Marvels Comics that showed what the comics inside the Marvel Universe might look like.

Heck, that even goes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: “Captain America Comics”, “Patsy Walker”, and “Kid Colt” all exist there as well.

I’ve often wondered if Skrulls come from a culture without drawings, which could explain why they don’t recognise them.
A vision problem is the explanation? For a race of shapeshifters who make convincing images of people they meet?

“The FF had never met other super heroes.”
Oh, I know that. I’m just using those as examples to say that maybe everything in those issues were in continuity?

“That plan backfired years later when, under John Byrne’s pen, the milk from those skrull cows gave shapeshifting powers to the people from a whole small town AND also made them into a bunch of paranoid secretive maniacs prone to kill anyone who could uncover their secret.”

It’s so much more complicated than that. See my letter in Howard The Duck (second 2015 series) #2. Too lazy to write all that again.

There’s another aspect to this story that makes the resolution particularly clunky. The Skrull who impersonates the Torch returned to the same invasion fleet that Reed is fooling with comic books.
This presents a problem since that Skrull would know that the earth isn’t filled with monsters. Also… the entire FF pose as Skrulls but the Skrulls would likely know there are only three remaining agents on Earth.

I presume this was a quick fix to an art “mistake” via exposition. If I recall the two torches have a fiery collision and it’s possible that Kirby meant for the Torch- Skrull to be destroyed…. hence only three skrulls that get turned into cows. For whatever reason…. Stan has him return to the skrull ship.

Sorry, I didn’t read the original story, only the flashback told in the Byrne “skrull milk” one, where their vision issues are referenced. So… that means the skrull myopia is a retcon?

AAAnd… Couldn’t they simply show them real photographies from the Myriad of Monster Movies from the ’50s/early ’60s? Of course the films wouldn’t convince them, as they could point the FX deficiencies, but still pics could be quite believable. What effect Godzilla (or any “Captain Ersatz”) walking over a burning Tokyo would have on them?

So… that means the skrull myopia is a retcon?

Yes, in the most traditional sense (in that was retroactively revealed).

Thank you, Mr. Cronin!

And, Mr. Messor, sorry, but I’m afraid I’ll not able to read your letter, since I’m in Brazil and in our printings of the comics the original letter columns are replaced with the ones from local readers. If it’s not more work than typing the answer here, could you e-mail me a scan of your published letter? Or, if you sent it via e-mail and haven’t deleted it, could you copy-nd-paste it and send me? I explicitly authorize Mr. Cronin to give you my address for this purpose!

I’ve always figured that the Skrulls’ inability to distinguish between comic book drawings and realities was a kind of meta/in-joke thing- since the real world they inhabit is actually in a comic book, what they think of as reality looks indistinguishable from comic book drawings. Especially if all the monster drawings Reed used were drawn by Jack Kirby.

LouReedRichards

March 10, 2016 at 12:55 pm

“Then Mister Fantastic comes up with a ludicrous plan that somehow actually works…”

I think you meant :

“Then Mister Fantastic comes up with a amazingly ingenious plan.”

Like most people, my favorite Lee/Kirby FF stories are from later in the run, but the early issues certainly have a weird flavor all their own.

I would have written that the pictures were drawings, representing the ‘defences’ the humans had. Would have made as much sense I guess?
And have those monsters actually appeared in any of the monster comics or were they just made up?I’ve read a fair amount of the monster comics but not all of them so thats why they don’t seem familiar to me…

I was going to say the giant ant was Grottu but he wasn’t an army of giants.

Le Messor it’s possible the Skrulls impersonate people/creatures/things by means other than sight. Much like DC’s Durlans, who scan things with their antenna to make the duplicates accurate.

There was a similar story in Strange Adventures in which aliens are scanning human minds to learn the nature of our military technology. We beat them by having Edmond Hamilton (well pretty close) stand near the scanner and think about the tech in his SF stories. The aliens immediately run in terror for fear we’ll blow up their planet or their sun.

I wish Reed had continued this tactic on every foe the FF faced.

“Look, Galactus! You can’t consume Earth because of TALES TO ASTONISH, that’s why!”

Peter Parker also tried this on the Green Goblin: “You can’t kill Gwen Stacy because…”

Chad Walters – come to think of it, I have those Marvels Comics you mention.

Alaric, I like your explanation.

Fraser: that could be what happened. It works for Alicia Masters. Has that been explained anywhere? Despite the following, there’s a LOT I don’t know about Skrulls.

Ivan, I checked this morning, and the letter is indeed still in my ‘sent mail’ box.
The relevant section (in FF#2, only three of the four Skrulls were turned into cows) :
“I followed Tara’s story with great interest. I like the resolution, but there was a slight problem, and please allow me to be the 616th person to tell you what it is:
That fourth Skrull is accounted for.
You see, the three from Fantastic Four #2 got changed back to their Skrull forms in Avengers #93.
Then they got taken home. (Avengers #94)
Then they were revealed to be dairy cows who infected a whole town with their milk. (Fantastic Four annual #17)
Then they were revealed to be beef cows who got eaten in Skrull Kill Krew (which you already know about).

So, what happened to the fourth?
In Avengers #89 – 97, the classic Kree / Skrull war, he took the form a senator and tried to discredit the Avengers. He got revealed and beaten to death by an angry mob in Avengers #97: Godhood’s End.

So, he was never a duck, is basically what I’m saying.”

Thank you for the work and the answer, Messor!

I feel sorry for the skrull cows’ fate. On a partially related issue, I remember now Lucasarts’ SimCity-like game “Afterlife”, where you managed the rewards and punishments of Heaven and Hell. One of the rewards for peaceful souls was the Brahmatic Bovine Bliss Ranchs, where you had the option of spending your afterlife as a cow, meditating about the platitudes of the Universe.

Is it me or Jack Kirby’s style is a little different here?

I’m not sure what you mean by “different”, but to me, it looks like pretty standard artwork for early 60’s Kirby.

What about it seems different to you? I’m not being snarky, just curious.

Could be the inking by George Klein, who I would normally associate with DC, often inking Swan on Superman stories.

Kirby’s style changed over time, anyway.

Agreed. The first few FF issues were still very much in Kirby’s Atlas/Marvel monster phase, which eventually became the slicker and more super-hero style most of us are familiar with.

David Spofforth

March 11, 2016 at 12:14 pm

There’s something kinda interesting going on with the colouring on those early FFs. How figures would be painted all one colour, like that panel with the green Reed and yellow Sue.

I understand this was eventually retconned to: ” I pray he doesn’t suspect these were clipped from Johnny’s monster magazines.”

Superconnectivity

March 11, 2016 at 1:20 pm

It is an interesting question with regard to comic books and the Marvel Universe. Given that these characters all also appear in comic books in continuity. It makes you wonder if comic books are a bit more akin to a legitimate journalistic enterprise.

Many monster stories have become a part of the Marvel Universe over the years, and of course as presented in She-Hulk comics are even admissible in court, But at the same time we also know that in universe Marvel comics routinely embellish the tales they tell (There is a great Thing story where he goes to Marvel to complain about their depiction of a recent battle he had with a man wearing metal shoes).

If one really wanted to have fun with a retcon of this story, one could point out that the monsters Reed presents were actual monsters within the earth, and that the real rouse was suggesting that earthlings had any control over such creatures.

As to passing off comic art are photographs, well, I guess that was Stan’s way of suggesting that Kirby was just that good, although in the Spiderverse cross-over recently a point was made about the different art styles and physics of the universes they went to (such as the 60’s Spiderman cartoon universe). So if one wants to get highly metaphysical about, in an ink and color universe, there is no difference between photographs and comic art, or at least not enough to distinguish to the untrained eye.

Superconnectivity- ” So if one wants to get highly metaphysical about, in an ink and color universe, there is no difference between photographs and comic art, or at least not enough to distinguish to the untrained eye.”

That’s basically what I said earlier.

Maybe within the Marvel Universe, comic book illustrations are photo-realistic. After all, they look as real as the Fantastic Four. :)

I think this story illustrates something I realized when I recently read the first couple of ESSENTIAL FF volumes — that these early issues were much more comical and self-parodic than later comics. They just didn’t take themselves all that seriously. The way the FF are constantly reading their own comics, the way Ben keeps referring to himself as a magazine character, the way Doctor Doom actually threatens Lee and Kirby into luring Reed into a trap — these comics were every bit as metatextual and fourth-wall-breaking as DEADPOOL is today. Sure, there was the in-story excuse that the comics were based on the FF’s real adventures, but that was a paper-thin rationalization for Lee and Kirby having fun with the fourth wall.

Not to mention that Lee was a career huckster. Having Reed save the day using Marvel’s monster comics was basically an in-story commercial for Marvel’s monster comics.

Austin Burton

May 3, 2016 at 2:35 pm

@David Spofforth

That was something common in Silver Age Marvel comics. In fact, “Marvel mash up”, where people re-write old comics in a humorous way, made fun of this. They re-wrote a scene where this happens, and they had the Thing say that Dr. Doom splashed paint balloons on them to make them all yellow.

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