After the first issue, I decided to read this one in chronological order, so I started with the back-up strip: The Fantastic Four Meet The Skrulls From Outer Space!
The skrulls are the Marvel universe’s resident shape-shifters. (Star Trek has its changelings, Babylon 5 has its changeling-net, The X-Men had The Changeling, Doctor Who has... Doctor Who, no hang on, I’ve contradicted meself) (I’ll start this paragraph again)
The skrulls are the Marvel universe’s resident race of shape-shifters, and in this story they’ve been impersonating the FF to ruin their reputation...
That’s a fine plan, so long as the real FF don’t have alibis. Anyway, the FF are indeed blamed for their doppelgangers' crimes, and locked-up by the army, from where they escape quite brilliantly. But not quite as brilliantly as Johnny’s plan to expose the skrulls and clear their names:
That’s a fine plan too, in fact so fine, that it actually works...
There’s then a fight between the Fantastic Four and the skrulls, during which their advantage of being able to shape-shift doesn’t really seem to occur to them. You can see them all thinking about it afterwards in the next frame:
So, pretending to be their shape-shifting counterparts, the FF head on up to the skrulls’ main saucer to dissuade their leader from invading the Earth. But this time Reed has the finest plan yet.
After that there’s a rather nice throwaway scene back on Earth in which Ben briefly becomes human again.
Finally there’s another bust-up with the three remaining skrulls, who have now remembered their abilities, and this enables the FF to at last prove their innocence to the authorities. They defeat the three aliens, and Reed makes up a handy excuse to cover for letting the fourth one get away.
The story concludes in a way I cannot possibly debate the morality of.
So, the main strip then.
Some years later, and similar themes are being treated somewhat more psychologically. The military are again holding members of the FF hostage, the shape-shifter of the piece relies instead on suggestive thought, and Ben Grimm is a human once more, but desperate to become the Thing again.
It lasts longer this time, but not that long...
Whoaaaa – that’s a panel to enlarge and make a scary mask out of.
Credit really must go to the more modern material, for retaining all the wonder and fun of the 1960s tales, whilst at the same time treating the whole thing very seriously. The later strip really doesn’t emulate the earlier one, but the writing has clearly grown-up together with the FF’s original readers.
As reprint magazines go, this one really appears to satisfy all ages.