Promising start, no resolution
This issue is arguably a pretty important moment of the Fantastic Four series. State University gets properly explored, Diablo makes his second appearance, and Dragon Man and his affection for Susan are introduced. More importantly Reed Richards finally proposes to Susan Storm, advancing a romantic subplot that was ongoing since 1961. But I'd have to say the issue is something of a mixed blessing.
For one thing, the motivation of Diablo is never really established. In a 1994 interview, Stan Lee claimed that "I couldn't think of anything to do with Diablo .. I don't know who he was or where he came from or what he was trying to dp or why he was trying to do it ... I was totally uninterested in him". I have to saythat lack of interest really shows in this issue. But lets take a closer look at the story.
The issue begins with the Fantastic Four arriving at State University, the alma mater of Ben and Reed. While none of the students really stand out, some amusing interactions with them follow throughout the issue. Handsome Reed finds himself surrounded by admiring college girls. While the college boys are drooling over Susan. Ben Grimm, the best athlete in the school's history, gets hero worshipped by college jocks. Johnny Storm finds himself generally ignored. He is just a high school boy and the college students have no interest in him. Which bruises the ego of the teenage show off. I have to say, I love these depictions of the Fantastic Four as beloved public figures.
A few other familiar figures are soon encountered within the building. Professor Charles Xavier and Scott Summers were there to interview a number of students for "special gifts". Actually looking out for potential mutants. A nice indication that Xavier is not satisfied with only five X-Men. Reed and Ben soot have a private chat about Xavier. In particular Xavier's reputation as a brilliant scientist in contrast to the lack of publications in his name. Reed wonders why does his fellow scientist never announce his findings. Ben figures that Xavier doesn't care for publicity. Though the scene implies that Xavier has something to hide. Johnny Storm has an encounter of his own with a hater rival, Peter Parker. The two had met and quarreled (in their civilian identities) in "Amazing Spider-Man" vol. 1 #21 (February, 1965). Parker is nearing graduation and is checking out potential colleges to apply to. Which is foreshadowing for the upcoming issue #28 (September, 1965) title. Nice to know how integrated the Marvel Universe of the day was.
The issue starts going downhill with the introduction of Professor Gilbert and his model Dragon Man. The Dean comments that the creature is "hideous", Gilbert states his goal in "constructing a creature more powerful that anything that lives" and Reed contemplates the "Aura of Menace" around this lifeless model. It is supposed to be an ominous scene ominous scene but really comes off as heavy-handed.
The scene shifts to Transylvania where a couple approach the ruins of Diablo's castle. The Human Torch melted the stones of the castle back in #30 (September, 1964) and trapped Esteban himself beneath them. With a couple of powerful explosions, the stones are sent flying. The immortal Diablo reaches the surface once again. Arguably among his better moments. But the scene concludes in a ridiculous way. Diablo decides to locate the Fantastic Four and teleports from Europe to America. If he could teleport at such distances, why was he trapped beneath the castle ruins in the first place? A couple of pages later, Esteban arrives at State University. Has he teleported on the grounds? No he drives a modern looking car. He doesn't even pay attention to the FF. He heads straight for Gregson, pretty much seduces the scientist and starts working on bringing Dragon Man to life.
Hmmm... Esteban is supposed to have been mostly isolated from humanity since the 19th century. But suddenly turns up with modern clothes and a fancy car. Where did he get them? When did he learn to drive? No idea. We don't even know where he learned about the University, much less about Gregson and his creation. The model had just been completed and was not even a news item. Why does
Anyway, we get our first good look at a humanoid dragon. Diablo is discovered and attacked by the Thing. Dragon Man decides the Thing is a threat. A brief physical combat results in Ben sent flying throgh a window. The Dragon then breaks through a wall to get out, while Esteban and Gregson bicker with each other. The creature flies over a large crowd. But it doesn't seem to be attacking anyone. He is actually attacked by the Human Torch. The newborn gets to use his flames on Johhny. Mr. Storm absorbs them but finds his own flame going out of control. A superheated Torch causes cars and walls to melt, plants to burn. He then retreats to "the upper atmoshpere" to cool down. Reed and Susan next combine their powers to cause the young Dragon to fall from the sky. Nice to see Miss Storm succeeding for once. Then Sue realizes something. The dragon is whimpering "like an uncomprehending child". In an adorable scene, Susan pets the animal and it responds to her kindness. Unfortunately a pretty good bonding scene of a girl and her dog/dragon is cut short.
Diablo has arrived and knocks out Susan, Reed and Ben (who had just returned to consciousness anyway). At this point the plot really gets directionless. Johnny returns to find the unconscious bodies ... with Diablo having left. Didn't he want bloody vengeance? Was knocking out his enemies enough? The FF next track Diablo, Gregson and the Dragon to nearby "Dead Man's Lake". What are the trio doing there? The text provides no real clue. Esteban attempts to use ice powers against the Four, the Dragon reveals his loyalty to Sue by throwing off the aim of Diablo. The result is a frozen lake. The Dragon chases Diablo over the thin ice and they both fall into the waters. It is quickly established that there are powerful streams below the surface of the lake. Esteban and his Dragon are established as MIA, their bodies not recovered. So much for an actual fight between the immortal alchemist and the most powerful creature on Earth.
You know where this is going. There is no way those two are really dead, nor is there any indication that their storyline is over.
Some heavy-handed dialogue follows. Reed hopes that the menace of the Dragon is "lost forever" and Susan agrees. Didn't that "menace" save your lives. Gregson, feeling responsible for the monstrosity, swears to keep lifelong vigil over the lake. In the vague hope the Dragon Man resurfaces and needs to be destroyed. Why? If anything the creature caused much less destruction than the Human Torch.
The issue concludes with Johhny and Ben anxious to return home. But they are waiting for their teammates who took a walk down the local "lovers lane". Reed finally proposes to Susan and she accepts. A rather cute scene that leads to the longest-lasting wedding in Marvel history.
So where does the storyline continue? :
*Diablo next turns up in "Fantastic Four Annual" #3 (1965).
*The Dragon Man returns in "Avengers" vol. 1 #41 (June, 1967).
*Gregson Gilbert returns in "Sub-Mariner" vol. 1 #15 (July, 1969).