I sat down with my copy of Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four, cracked it open and readied myself to begin my Retro Review on Fantastic Four Annual no. 1. This is not that Retro Review. I noticed that the glorious first Annual is a whopping 72 pages. I also have a 19-month-old daughter, who fights sleep like it’s Galactus and her keeping awake is all that will save Earth from being devoured by the purple giant. Therefore, I’d never make it the 72 pages. So I decided to read a comic that relates (albeit vaguely) to two movies I very much enjoy.
One, Avengers: Infinity War, I reviewed last week (sort of), is quite a popular, well-received film. The other, Masters of the Universe, is not popular and was not well received, but I still love it. Yes, love. What comic book could possibly be connected to these two films? Actually, probably quite a few, but the one I’m interested in is Tales of Suspense no. 81.
In a bit more of a cheat, I’m only going to focus on the Captain America part of the book. Coming out of the 1950s, not-yet-Marvel was in dire straits. Jack has been quoted as saying he saw Stan crying in the not-yet-Marvel offices as furniture was taken out and staff was let go. Marvel, pretty much as they became Marvel, actually had their books distributed by rival National (yes, DC). The only problem, they were limited to a handful of books a month. To get more characters out and increase a book’s selling power, Stan would split comics between two otherwise marquee characters, so Tales of Suspense was shared by Iron Man and Captain America.
On the Iron Man side, he gets political and then fights the Soviet sent Titanium Man. However, we are here for Captain America and for that we need a bit of a recap of issue 80. Cap battles A.I.M.; this evil organization is in disarray, having been betrayed by the power-hungry Red Skull. They thought they could control him, they were wrong. By the end of the issue, the Red Skull wields the Cosmic Cube.
The issue starts off dramatically as the Red Skull wields the cosmic cube! Which, at this time is the most powerful thing in the Marvel Universe, not just a housing for the Space Stone.
Skull and Cap slug it out as the issue begins. The Red Skull imagines himself as King of Earth with a massive arsenal at his disposal. It’s just his sort of blabbering bad guy imagination, but it’s also the best series of panels in the comic.
The Red Skull talks and talks and talks. After that, he talks some more. He creates a rock dude, including a pair of undies, implying he created an anatomically correct deadly rock monster. Which, frankly, the kind of evil madman Red Skull is, yeah, he probably did.
As I mentioned above, Red Skull talks a lot. The whole while he talks, Cap thinks. It’s a great contrast, the bad guy relishing in his assured victory as the overmatched hero thinks his way through the situation, strategizing amidst the chaos.
Cap is about to defeat the anatomically-correct Rockman, when it suddenly vanishes. In an utterly brilliant moment from Stan and Jack, a perfect marriage of words and art, Red Skull refuses to allow Cap to beat his creation. That is a great villain.
The Red Skull has won, Cap has one final trick up his blue sleeve, to swear his undying loyalty. Red Skull decides to have his own Knights of the Round Table, with Cap as his Lancelot. King Skull is the wildly brilliant Jack Kirby at his best and finally brings us to that other movie I love, Masters of the Universe.
Masters of the Universe director was Gary Godard, who I have to mention was accused of child molestation by ER’s Anthony Edwards. Yeah, so that. Anyway, Godard said he wanted to make a Jack Kirby movie with Masters of the Universe. Knowing that, you can see a heavy influence from Kirby’s Fourth World with the overall plot. Godard even said he wanted to have a dedication to Kirby at the end of the film. Apparently the studio wouldn’t let him. However, the other place the influence became super apparent to me is the Red Skull when he wields the power giving Cosmic Cube, and Skeletor when he now has the power of the Sorceress.
The plot here at the end also works the same way, it comes down to the two men. Cap uses a desperate lunge and separates Skull from the cube. The cube sinks to the bottom of the ocean, and Skeletor falls into a pit of water. Which we learn from a post-credits sequence, yes a post-credits sequence in 1987, where Skeletor says, “I’ll be back.” He wasn’t. Red Skull will be. As will the Fantastic Four. See you next week!