“From where I stand—there hasn’t been much good in 1972—and there’s not likely to be much more in ’73.”
Reed Richards

HOW OFTEN HAS this happened to you: You’re standing in Times Square at 42nd Street with three of your
best pals (not to mention a few million strangers) at a few minutes before midnight on New Year’s eve.
Suddenly, a muscle-bound female named Thundra turns back the hands of a giant clock atop the Allied
Chemical Building. She wields a chain, swinging it to and fro with the same ease that Indiana Jones might
crack a bull whip, and publicly challenges you to a duel. Not really a typical day in anyone’s life, right? Not
really, unless you’re Ben Grimm (aka, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing) of the fabulous FANTASTIC FOUR in a
tale entitled “Thundra at Dawn!”

                                      Fantastic Four, no. 133 (April 1973—street date January 1973)
                                      Writer: Gerry Conway
                                      Penciller: Ramona Fradon
                                      Inker: Joe Sinnott
                                      Editor: Roy Thomas

First, a bit of back story for the uninitiated: During the time FF 133 was published, Reed and Susan Richards
were separated, with their mysterious offspring, Franklin, remaining in the care of Susan. To maintain the
status quo, Medusa (from the Inhumans) replaced Sue in the FF’s roster. Now that you’re up to speed, let’s
return to our regularly scheduled New Year’s tale.

Throughout the 1960s and with few exceptions, the arenas of crime-fighting and super-villianing were largely
male dominated. The heavy hitters were typically men, plain and simple. However, by the late 1960s and early
1970s, the comic book industry had begun to acknowledge women’s lib. Arguably, the philosophically charged
WONDER WOMAN comics of the late 1960s (in which Diana Prince sheds her T&A skin-suit in favor of a mod
[ie, “modern” woman] appearance and attitude) rank among the benchmarks insofar as male writers treating
their female characters with a liberated, even Eastern, approach is concerned. Alternatively, at 575 Madison
Avenue, there was Marvel’s Thundra, a woman who seemed hell-bent upon proving her superiority to man
and, in particular, to the FF’s Ben Grimm. As the Times Square altercation progresses, Thundra (still perched
upon the Allied Chemical Building like an angered, Poe-inspired raven) easily defeats Johnny Storm in a two-
step method that would cause most super-villains to shrug their shoulders and ponder “Why didn’t I ever think
to try that?” Here now, is the secret to Thundra’s success: She first removes the minute hand from the wall
clock and, as the Torch soon notices, spins “…that clock arrow like a blade propeller—blowing out my flame!”
To add oyster crackers to this bowl of crab bisque, Thundra then collects a mound of snow from the ledge
and throws it onto Johnny, lamenting that while it “…pains me to harm a member of the WEAKER SEX—the
torch must be eliminated—AT ONCE!” Johnny plummets downward, but is saved by a combined effort from
the elastically plastic arms of Mr. Fantastic and Medusa’s “near-sentient scarlet coils” (ie, her hair, to those of
us who, unlike Conway, prefer to read English).

During the chaos, Thundra kidnaps Ben’s girlfriend, the blind sculptress Alicia Masters, and departs, issuing
the ultimate challenge—Thundra versus Grimm three days hence, lest Alicia be killed. The FF decide to
return to their headquarters in what is, perhaps, one of the most ridiculous uses of Mr. Fantastic’s super-
power ever demonstrated: Reed anchors his right arm to a lamp post and anchors his left arm around the top
of a nearby skyscraper. Ben and Medusa hop into a makeshift sling, and Reed catapults the duo across the
sky. The Torch follows using his own flight powers. While in mid-air the trio pass the offices of Luke Cage who,
surprisingly, does not utter “Sweet Christmas!” (see virtually any issue of LUKE CAGE, POWER-MAN from this
era for a sample of this Marvel ‘70s style jive talk). Moments later, as Ben and Medusa are about to freefall
onto the midtown sidewalk, Reed’s elastic arm appears, breaking their fall.
Total travel time: “…less than ten seconds.”
Total ridiculousness: 100%.

News of the impending battle soon grips the nation and is broadcast across all three television networks.  The
MORNING LEDGER hails it as the “Fight of the Century.” Various super-heroes ponder the outcome of the
brawl. Spider-man lays odds on Thundra. The Incredible Hulk, always an avid reader and life-long subscriber
to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, is shown sitting in a cave and reading the newspaper. “Hulk doesn’t
UNDERSTAND…Fight dumb…EVERYONE dumb.” Yes, my gamma-irradiated friend, I believe we are ALL
feeling your pain.

Thundra, meanwhile, works out with 1000-lb dumb bells (we know this because each weight on the dumb bell
is clearly labeled “500”) while lying in wait with her companions in the Frightful Four (namely, Sandman,
Wizard, and the Trapster), as well as the captured Alicia (whose money is on Ben to win the approaching
clash, natch).

Finally, the big day arrives. The Thing and Thundra square off at a sold-out baseball stadium in Queens. It is
soon apparent that buxom and bare-midriffed Thundra has but one goal—the complete and utter butt-kicking
of bashful Benjy. She tosses aside the fight’s appointed referee like a skilled chef tossing a garden salad, and
quickly rains several blows upon the top of Ben’s head, causing him to cry out “Oooch!” in pain. Seconds
later, she quite literally ejects Ben from the stadium. He sails skyward like an out-of-control crouton before
landing atop a buffalo statue in Flushing Meadow Park. Thundra (using an anti-gravity flying disk), soon
reaches Benjy, and plants her tough-as-steel self atop the World Globe (a relic of the 1964 New York World’s
Fair, and no doubt symbolic of her “dominion” over mankind). Ben serves as a more-than-human punching
bag for several more panels before his trusted pal and scientist, Reed Richards, arrives. Fearing that “…if
she hits him AGAIN—Ben’s FINISHED,” Reed fires a weapon at The Thing. The weapon emits a glowing ray
that causes the Thing to transform to his flesh-and-blood persona of Ben Grimm. Aghast, Thundra withdraws,
stating, “I cannot INJURE a weakling man! It would be completely—UNFEMINE!” The effects of the ray are
temporary, and Ben soon returns to his orange-skinned self before succumbing to unconsciousness. He is
quickly revived and is delighted to see that Thundra has released Alicia. The tale ends with the FF pondering
what it was all about and walking into the horizon (as thousands of angered fans who paid ten bucks a seat to
witness a 30-second fight riot and loot with unrestrained fervor). A brief (two-panel) epilogue follows in which
the three male counterparts of the Frightful Four (Thundra’s bad guy pals) vow their revenge on Thundra (for
having released Alicia).

Pros: It’s silly. It’s goofy. And it doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. Fortunately, those factors all work in favor of
this tale. That they would just go and hang out among their fellow New Yorkers on New Year’s eve
demonstrates the FF’s humanity. That New York’s off-track betting corporation would take wagers as to the
outcome of the fight validates the depths to which our culture will sink in the name of profit. That Thundra
would so very much need to prove her superiority over man in such a ridiculously extreme manner, and while
endangering a fellow woman (Alicia), speaks of the frustration (or of writer Conway’s perceived frustration) of
a sect of early-1970s womankind. Interestingly, Thundra and Alicia are portrayed as extreme opposites, with
Thundra’s contempt for man and an attire that is both flamboyant and sexually taunting juxtaposed with the
conservatively dressed Alicia, who feels only kindness and concern for Ben. It is, perhaps, Conway’s way of
noting that, as the cliché goes, there are two sides to every story.
I cannot fault the art at all. I’m not sure if this is because guest artist Ramona Fradon is very, very good, or
because Joe Sinnott (who has inked more pages of the FANTASTIC FOUR than any living being) is such a
magnificent artist. It’s probably a combination of both.

Cons: The first three pages of Conway’s script seem to have been culled from a class I once saw offered
through Devry University entitled “Depressive Dialogue 101.” The opening segment is replete with morose
passages that seemed to be the norm in this series shortly after the departure of Lee and Kirby and (with few
exceptions) until the onset of John Byrne’s lengthy run on the series many years later. Likewise, several of
this issue’s sequences (such as the aforementioned sling-shot express and the propeller-blade fan) seem to
have been inspired more from the pages of SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSON than from the works of Lee and
Kirby. Lastly, I could ALMOST forgive Conway for showing a cave-dwelling Hulk reading a newspaper were
this story published in the early 1960s (since such goofy scenes were then commonplace), but the scene is a
decade out of character, and I know for a fact that THE WALL STREET JOURNAL stopped cave delivery in

My greatest criticism of this story is that, from a continuity point of view, Conway has locked the FF into a
period in time (ie, New Year’s eve, 1972 through January 3, 1973). He wasn’t the first to do this sort of thing,
of course. Lee and Kirby did it quite often, with references to and appearances from 1960s pop culture icons
being the norm (remember when the Beatles guest starred in STRANGE TALES?) rather than the exception
of Marvel’s Silver Age. It is, however, these sort of allusions that concurrently work with and against the comic
book writer. When a story is fixed in a given point of time, no amount of retro-fitting of one’s universe can
undo what’s been done. It is for this very reason that the characters I write about age naturally, rather than in
a comic book “reality” in which “real” time doesn’t exist. For example, in 1998 I published a one-shot entitled
THE S.H.O.P. (SUPER-HEROES OF PHILADELPHIA). Now even though I might not publish another S.H.O.P.
story for five or six years, when that tale eventually DOES publish, the characters will be at least five or six
years older in age than they were in the last tale. Or, I can simply set all the story at a given time point in the
past if I choose to deal with the characters at the current “age.” As a self-publisher I can get away with this
sort of stuff. Licensed properties, however, don’t really have these types of luxuries. Unless, for example, an
executive order is passed from the powers that be, you’re not likely to see a dictum that states “From this day
forth, all Marvel stories will occur in the year 2001.” Similarly, you will not likely see an aged Thing or Mr.
Fantastic any time soon, just as you’re not likely to see Bruce Wayne permanently hang up the bat-cowl. And
while these types of continuity glitches certainly bug some of us fan-boys quite a bit, it’s extremely important to
remember: IT’S ALL PRETEND. Penning essays about the aging or non-aging of super-heroes is a hot topic
among fans—this much I discovered when my essay WHY DON’T HEROES AGE? was published on the web.
The sad truth is we all age, and one day we’ll all cease to exist, including those heroes we so love and cherish
and wish would remain immortal. Sorry, I seem to channeling my optimism from Conway.

As the old year draws to a close, kick back, uncork the champagne, celebrate the new year, and go publicly
challenge someone of the opposite gender to a knock-down-drag-out battle of the sexes. I guarantee it’ll
remove all distracting fan-boy thoughts about continuity, at least until after you’ve gotten your butt kicked by a
F a n t a s t i c   F o u r   1 3 3  (A p r i l   1 9 7 3)
d a v i d    y u r k o v i c h