Fantastic use of characters
Some issues of the 19960s Fantastic Four have aged badly. Others can still impress modern readers, decades after their publication. I have to say #36 is among the latter. The Storm siblings definitely get a chance to shine, the Frightful Four make credible threats, Meduca is a pretty good addition to the cast. Even Alicia gets to play hero for once.
The issue features the engagement party of Reed and Susan. Which allows Kirby to design a media circus as numerous photographers and cameramen struggle to get good shots of the new couple. While ignoring Johnny and insulting Ben. Even the Yancy Street Gang sends a gift, a mock-bomb which actually contains flowers. A pretty solid start.
The actual party features the Avengers and X-Men as party guests. With an uninvited Spider-Man stealing a slice of cake. These are rather forgettable cameos. The only plot relevant detail is the Angel and Marvel Girl dancing together. Since they are love interest to each other in the "X-Men" series. Cyclops spends the party eating.
The real fun begins with the introduction of the Frightful Four. Three of them are familiar faces. Sandman makes his sixth appearance, the Wizard his fifth and Paste Pot Pete (Trapster) his fourth. Flashback scenes establish that Flint and Peter jointly escaped from prison and hijacked a jet plain. Quickly establishing the skills of these two villains.
The continuation of the flashback has them discovering the Wizard, who was floating aimlessly after loosing control of his anti-gravity disks, and rescuing his life. He is the one who proposes and partnership and the formation of the "evil counterpart" of the FF. He volunteers to recruit the necessary female member himself. A new flashback has Bentley on a Mediterranean island, witnessing Medusa crushing a group of police officers (with French names). Introducing one of the few active villainesses of the time in spectacular fashion.
Refreshingly the new Four do not spend time plotting against each other and seem to have at least some respect for each other. Strategically they are pretty solid as well. They wait for the party guests to leave prior to attacking. First locating and ambushing the Thing. The Trapster leaves Ben bound and gagged. As a finishing touch, the Wizard uses sleeping gas to leave Mr. Grimm helpless. An attempt to ambush Susan fails due to her quick reflexes. But Reed falls to the combined efforts of Sandman and Trapster.
Miss Storm reveals herself to be more dangerous that the villains expected. Bentley and Pete fall to two solid forcefields, aimed at their heads as projectiles. Sandman is trapped by another forcefield. Susan only looses when Medusa ambushes her from behind. Nice to see Sue as a true action girl. The villains suddenly realize that Johnny is missing. An overlooked Alicia also realizes it. She crawls to the unconscious body of Susan, retrieves the flare signal device and manages to summon the Torch. Alicia is captured moments later but her actions actually help her allies survive in the long run.
The four captives are next seen helplessly floating toward the stratosphere. Bentley has arranged for them to suffocate. Ruthlessly efficient. When the Torch does arrive at the Baxter Building, he only finds the Frightful Four. Time for Johhny to shine. You would expect a typical fighting scene. Wrong. He uses speed to abduct the Wizard and then hijacks the vehicle of the villains. A scared Bentley is forced to assist Johhny in rescuing his own victims. Or get to experience the flames in his skin. Johhny saves the day in an unusually ruthless way. I definitely like it.
The remaining three villains hijack the Pongo Plane. A spectacular battle between the two vehicles. Before Susan's handy forcefield forces the Pongo Plane to land. The Wizard and Sandman are captives, Medusa and Trapster on the loose. When the FF go searching for them, the two villains set a pretty good ambush for Reed. Susan gets the spoltlight treatment again. She physically attacks Pete and throws him to the ground. Then wrestles control of his weapons and uses them on Medusa. Complete victory? Not yet. The forgotten Wizard sets his own ship to explode, the villains escaping in the confusion. Leaving them an ongoing threat.
Solid characterization, pretty impressive battle scenes and constant reversals of fortune. Classic Marvel at its best. The Frightful Four storyline continues in #38 (May, 1965).