“Prisoners of Kurrgo, Master of Planet X!” 

Script by Stan Lee 
Pencils by Jack Kirby 
Inks by Dick Ayers 

While issue #6 is one of the best early issues of Fantastic Four, issue #7 is one of my least favorites. While the previous issue had a complete and compelling story featuring villains we’ve already met and care about, this was an episodic mish-mosh of old ideas and clichés that doesn’t add up to much. Despite those flaws, it’s not a horrible issue — it just feels like filler. Perhaps this had to do with the series going from a bimonthly to a monthly publication schedule, and Lee and Kirby had to crank this issue out quickly.

This one starts with Kurrgo, who’s the sort of character that populated a lot of the pre-hero Atlas series. An alien whose planet faces destruction from an asteroid on a collision course, he thinks the Fantastic Four can save his people.

Then we cut to the banter-filled intro of our heroes, who this time are quarrelling over a “government dinner” being held in their honor that no one except Reed is interested in attending. The strange reasons they all have for not wanting to go prompt even stuffy ol’ Reed Richards to roll his eyes in one panel. This sequence segues into a scene where Johnny takes a shower and Ben cranks up the hot water as a joke. Johnny flames on and turns the water to steam, setting off alarms. Reed uses his powers to check all the vents before he puts two and two together and realizes the junior members are horsing around again. Finally, they all head off to the dinner in the Fantasti-car, waving at folks on the road below. All this is a kind of fun character bit, though it also feels like definite filler and a scene that goes nowhere. It also lacks the polish similar scenes in the previous issues have.

When Kurrgo’s ship finally arrives, Lee and Kirby have a giant robot emerge using images ripped straight out of the classic movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. The plot gets even more weirdly complicated as the robot sends out a “hostility ray” that turns everyone on Earth against the Fantastic Four. The heroes themselves see the effect take hold in the midst of their “government dinner” with members of Congress and have to escape the Capitol building and get back to the Baxter Building. Kurrgo’s robot awaits them at their HQ and tells them the only way out is for them to go with him to Planet X and help Kurrgo save it. They agree, and head off into space.

Up to this point, Kirby’s art this issue is serviceable but lacking the impact that the previous issue did. The fourth part of this story, however, changes that with a great splash on page 15 with the Fantastic Four floating toward the ground in a futuristic city using and anti-gravity device of some kind. The splash for part 5 of this story is another great one that foreshadows the kinds of compositions and designs that would define Kirby’s amazing work in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The story remains a bit of a mess as the Fantastic Four meet Kurrgo for some exposition about how Planet X only has two spaceships and needs to save its 5 billion inhabitants from the asteroid that’s going to hit in 24 hours. There’s an obligatory and strange fight scene that ends as Reed agrees to help. The solution is a pretty good comic book plot twist, as Reed develops a shrinking ray to reduce the size of Planet X’s inhabitants to the point where they can all fit on a single spaceship, with the Fantastic Four free to return to Earth in the other. This works great for everyone except Kurrgo, who tries to keep a non-existent antidote for himself only as a way to enslave his people only to miss the flight and presumably die in the asteroid collision.

A lot of the ideas in this issue are interesting, but they aren’t well developed because the issue flits from one unrelated idea to the next too quickly to cohere into a solid narrative. The result is a story that’s underwhelming in comparison to the previous issue in particular, but still had some charm and wit for the casual reader.

This was one of the stories adapted with some significant changes for the first Fantastic Four animated series that aired in the late 1960s. I saw this episode of the show in reruns sometime around 1992 or 1993, just before I read the comic book version for the first time in the Marvel Masterworks edition. Based on what I recall of my reaction, that episode did little to improve on the comic book version.