Monday, March 25, 2013

The FF Forays Into The 80s part III: Salem's Sly Seven & The Blind God That Time Forgot

By Jef Willemsen (

In the third part of this retrospective on the dimly lit days of Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz's Fantastic Four run, the four fight the seven from Salem before having to deal with a blind god who can't stop crying... not to mention his loyal band of fur vested vikings on  motorbikes.

When we last left the Fantastic Four, their young son Franklin had inadvertently been possessed by Nicholas Scratch, a powerful warlock trapped in the Negative Zone hoping to use the young boy's mutant powers to free himself. The FF, aided by Scratch's mother Agatha Harkness and Gabriel the Devil-Hunter, rushed to the witch community of New Salem, where Agatha would try and perform an exorcism.

However, that was just what Scratch had planned as he told his former accomplices, the Salem's Seven... sitting in New Salem's prison after the FF put them there in Fantastic Four annual # 14. 

"You must escape this prison, eliminate all interference from the other folk, then lay a trap for the Fantastic Four..."

But wait, Scratch had more to say!

"The doors are open... you are free to leave".

Needless to say, the minute the FF arrived in New Salem, they noticed the town was unusually quiet. But even though they were prepared for a trap, they still ran into it. The Salem Seven easily overpowered them and dragged everyone onto a special sacrificial altar...

"Franklin... please... I love you, Franklin, I love you..."

While it's more than a little understandable Sue would be distraught by what was happening to her child, it does irk a bit that while she had been a superhero as long as the male members of the team... she was the only one turning into a sobbing, pleading mess. Thankfully, Gabriel the Devil-Hunter came up with the solution to their plight...

"Feel somethin' bein' wrenched deep inside... like... somethin' s bein' ripped right outta my heart"

Oh, you don't know the half of it, Ben...

Agatha Harkness and Gabriel used their powers to rip the FF's souls from their bodies and project them into Franklin's mind so they could confront Scratch directly. He was more than ready to deal with the team in this realm as well, but because there weren't that many pages left, the villain had an unexpected change of heart.

"I'll release the child! I'll do anything mother... Anything!!"

For a big, bad warlock intent on wresting control of New Salem away from his mother, Nicholas Scratch suddenly turned out to be unable to stomach the idea of actually hurting his mother. With Franklin back to normal, Agatha used her powers to strip away Scratch's and then decided she'd better stay behind in New Salem to take care of her son. 

"Yes, from now on we're going to take care of you ourselves, tiger."

... And what a bang up job you've done so far, but bless Franklin and his childlike optimism for thinking it's going to be a 'heapin' passle o' fun' (heapin' passle? What 4 year old this side of Hazzard county talks like that?)...  yaybo indeed. 

In his interview for Comics Creators on Fantastic Four, writer Doug Moench explained just why he wrote the Salem twoparter.

"I don't think that was my idea. I think Salicrup (the FF editor at the time - JW) asked me to do that. He asked me to pick up the threads from some previous storyline and resolve this mystery about Franklin that had been left hanging by the previous writer. I think I called Marv (Wolfman -JW) and he told me he was going to tie it to Salem's Seven so I just followed his lead. It wasn't really to my taste. I didn't particularly like Salem's Seven."

So, barely three issues in, Moench was already being forced to incorporate and finish characters and storylines he didn't have any particular interest in. Luckily, he was allowed to write whatever he saw fit in the next issue, which meant Fantastic Four # 224 featured... the crystal dome of Korgon. 

While that might sound very interesting... trust yours truly... It truly isn't. 

I could fill another chapter, giving a blow by blow description of all the tedious nonsense that goes on  in issues # 224 and # 225... But it's convoluted, corny and ultimately instantly forgettable. In a nutshell: one morning, the FF are surprised by a mysterious red fog appearing over New York city, a mist that for some reason causes their powers to malfunction.

Sue is the first to notice this and runs out to warn the others, allowing Reed another prime opportunity to verbally slap her around.

"Sue! Not now darling, we're trying to..."

Eventually, Reed is able to trace the origin of the slightly radioactive red mist to the North Pole and the team, continuously suffering power loss, decide to investigate just what is causing all this. Arriving in the arctic, the headstrong Human Torch flies off to explore on his own and is quickly taken prisoner by vikings. Ow yes... vikings. Luckily, he's able to warn the others.

Let's meet the Vikings...

After a brief skirmish, the Fantastic Four allow themselves to be taken prisoner by the Viking forces in order to gain access to their home, the crystal dome of Korgon. And just who is Korgon, you might ask? Well, let's meet the man if you must... 

Korgon the blind god started out 1000 years ago as a normal Viking male, who gained strange energy powers after exploring a meteor crash site. These powers not only turned him blind, he also grew to the size of a giant, became immortal and was able to cry red energy which he uses to power the crystal dome that houses his followers, descendants of those vikings who decided to follow this new godlike creature back in the day...

For convenience's sake, let's ignore such simple truths as inevitable inbreeding after 1000 years, not to mention the fact the North Pole's all ice and no soil, so heating up a city with otherworldly energies would have caused it to melt right through the ice. We have bigger fish to fry, because...

Korgon is close to death. During one of his crying sessions to restore the dome's energy supply, he suffered a seizure that caused his 'energy tears' to escape into the atmosphere and travel across the globe, manifesting itself as the red mist that messed up the FF's powers.

The story continues in Fantastic Four # 225, in which Korgon forces the Fantastic Four to try and cure his ailment... or die. Reed is able to stabilise the god's condition and all seems well in the world... if not for the fact Korgon took Richards aside to make another request.

Mr. Fantastic honors Korgon's request and constructs a device designed to drain away his godlike powers. However, Wiglif, one of Korgon's loyal yet suspicious followers, learned of this plan and secretly adjusted the machine to have the exact opposite effect. Instead of removing Korgon's powers, it amplified them during a process so painful it drove the Nordic man god insane.

And that's as good a cue as any for this anniversary issue's special guest star to arrive...

Yes, Thor and Odin had been monitoring the situation from Asgard and when Korgon lost it because of Wiglif's machinations, the All Father finally allowed his son to help out. Knocking Korgon around, Thor was able to calm the maddened man down long enough so Odin could extract the excess energies from his system... Odin apparently applied an attitude adjustment as well, because Korgon suddenly seemed very happy to continue the life of a god he was ready to abandon a few pages earlier.

Still, let's wrap this up...

"You must also accept trust in us, Korgon... We will never betray the secret of your crystal dome."

Reed's as good as his word... so far, that's the last we've seen of either Korgon or his biker vikings. Asked about this two parter by Tom DeFalco for Comics Creators on Fantastic Four, Moench noted that while the premise of the Blind God and his lost civilisation certainly felt more like the Lee and Kirby type stories he wanted to tell, Sienkiewicz' art wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind.

"I remember thinking this story should look like Jack Kirby and I'm getting Neal Adams. I just couldn't face reality. I knew I should try to do a different type of story and try to get the Lee/Kirby model out of my head, but I never did. My perception of the FF was so rooted in those first fourty issues that I couldn't shake it, couldn't adjust to the reality of the situation."

Still, that doesn't mean Moench wouldn't keep on trying, as we'll see in part IV of The FF Forays Into The 80s: Robots, Parasites and the Ego Spawn... Oh my!


  1. Maybe it's just the few panels you've shown from the arc, but in the Korgon story, the art looks fine for the subject matter, I think. It's not nearly as "dark" as the previous storyline (in which, frankly, the art matched just fine, considering the topic). It's a lot of hatin' on Sienkiewicz, when you consider that the stories Moench was writing weren't exactly giving Sienkiewicz a whole lot to work with...

  2. David, considering how Sienkiewicz's style would evolve after this, his work on the Korgon story is perfectly fine. It's hard to sell a story revolving around a 15 foot blind god running around the North Pole in his undies, crying crimson energy... I'm certainly not attacking Bill's art in this arc, but I have to agree with Moench's explanation that maybe a more Kirbyesque style would have fit better (then again, there's very little Kirby couldn't improve on).

    The point behind this retrospective is exploring the question how Moench/Sienkiewicz could have been so succesful and creative match a on Moonknight, while also falling short on Fantastic Four at the same time.

    Moench's vision for the team was somehow off, despite him trying to emulate the greats... Add to that the fact that Bill's art never quite seemed to mesh with the script, despite him being used to Doug's storytelling by then.
    All in all, it resulted in the general notion that this wasn't anything like the world's greatest comic book.

    And yet, this is also the most fascinating part of their run. 32+ years later, their legacy is by no means bad or derivative... We got the DeFalco 90s for that. Heck, as we'll cover in the next chapters Bill and Doug will introduce some truly original FF material. But despite the obvious creativity involved, most of it would be forgotten as soon as John Byrne took over again.

    The ability to leave a distinct impression that people in general decide to forget as quickly as possible makes for an interesting story, so let's continue to tell it :)

  3. As I stated in my comment to the previous post, I dropped FF right after the Salem's Seven story concluded and didn't come back until Byrne took over. Looks like I didn't miss much.
    Moench's statements from that interview are interesting: he always seems to pass the buck on why the stories weren't up to snuff. And blaming the artist is really a stretch. Personally, I saw nothing wrong with Sienkiewicz's art, either in those issues that I had or based on the panels you've posted here. I think your observation that "Moench's vision for the team was somehow off" goes to the heart of the matter and serves as a rather perfect summary of this entire run.

  4. I rather like retarded stories like this...I don't think anyone's art could have made the giant blind Viking North Pole god seem like a good idea. But that's the kind of crazy stuff only comics and B-movies can make so bad they're good.

    I want one about a giant radioactive turtle swimming in the Hudson and negating all super powers and electricity so the FF has to solve it without any powers or Reed Richards widgets!

  5. Well Matt, there weren't any current sucking radioactive turtles in the remainder of the Moench run, but in the next installment we'll cover mind controlling trilobites from outerspace who devolve their victims to quench their addiction to fossil fuels. Owww yeah.



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