Meet the Skrulls From Outer Space!”
Script by Stan Lee
The second issue picks up pretty much where the first left off, developing and adding certain themes and motifs the series would repeat endlessly. It’s also a wildly uneven story, but one whose highs outweigh the lulls.
The Fantastic Four continue to be anti-superheroes in this issue — eschewing costumes and hanging out in everyday settings such as Reed’s apartment and a hunting lodge. Apparently, they are already quite famous by this point — the cops all know the FF on a first-name basis and, in an early scene, Sue is given high celebrity status by a jeweler who, frankly, should have known better than to let the Invisible Girl see his famous jewels. But at the same time, they’re also freaks that people are quick to turn against at the slightest provocation. (Apparently, the polarized opinions of 1960s Marvel Universe foreshadowed the current political discourse in the United States.) This dichotomy more than any other has come to define the Marvel style, from these early years through the present day.
The next segment of this story sees the U.S. Army locate the hunting lodge and demand the FF surrender. And this is the first spot where the issue goes off the rails. Rather than a really cool scene of the FF resisting the Army’s attacks, repelling bullets, melting missiles, etc., the FF just go ahead and surrender. The Army sticks them in special cells designed to resist their powers, but it was all for naught as the FF escapes in the most obvious fashion possible in about five minutes. A scene like this makes me think that Lee and Kirby were avoiding a potential conflict with the Comics Code Authority, which required that “(p)olicemen, judges, Government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.” Either way, it’s the first sequence in the series that interrupts the build up of credibility and believability the series is really aiming for.
That the first scene after the escape sees the FF reconvening and picking up their argument where they lift off only confirms the filler nature of the escape. But it doesn’t necessarily get better as Johnny suggests they smoke out the imposters by attacking a rocket launch and hoping it’s confusing enough to allow the real FF to infiltrate the alien group. It only makes sense if the Skrulls are completely random in their attacks, i.e., they have no set plan whatsoever and don’t even know what they are doing.
Still, this being comics, it works – and Johnny infiltrates and exposes the alien group. The flare gun that creates the flaming “4” in the sky returns from issue #1.
As we move into part three, the comic recreates the cover image inside the story again as the battle gets going. Sue and Thing obviously contribute less here than in the first issue. I do like the moody coloring in the panels of some of these early Marvels, such as this one, in which Reed and Sue look like Martin Landau and Barbara Bain from Mission: Impossible or Space: 1999.
The story goes a bit crazy again as the FF find the Skrull ship (in a water tower!) and go into space to bluff the aliens into not invading Earth. Reed does this by presenting comic book images as real, thereby proving that alien species can be dumb as rocks and still master interplanetary travel. It’s also one of the first signs of Stan Lee putting plugs for his other comics directly in the story — something that was common in some of the earliest Marvels before continuity, footnotes and Bullpen Bulletins pages kicked in and took line-wide promotion to the next level.
The issue wraps up with a pin-up of The Thing, who at this point had yet to develop his chiseled features and was more of a lumpy, scaly looking character.
I really like the pacing of these older issues and the breaking down of the story into chapters that run 5 or so pages each. Today, each chapter in this story would be an issue unto itself.