Mitchell Brant (like me) is a big fan of The Fantastic Four. It’s his favorite comic book, and he tries his best to collect as many of the old original copies as he can. In chapter one of The Eye-Dancers, we see him pull out a copy of Fantastic Four number 99. I’d like to think he also owns four remarkable issues from 1969–numbers 90–93. These four issues together form one story arc, a continuing saga that, in many ways, foreshadows Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games four decades later.
Did Suzanne Collins ever read Fantastic Four # 90–93? Chances are very high she did not. But the premise behind both stories is similar. Amazingly so.
In Fantastic Four number 90 (September 1969), The Thing is captured by a Skrull slave hunter.
In the Marvel Comics universe, the Skrulls are an alien race with shape-shifting abilities from the Andromeda galaxy. They first appeared way back in Fantastic Four number 2 (January 1962), so by ’69, readers were very familiar with them. In number 90, this particular Skrull fools The Thing into believing he’s Mr. Fantastic, the FF’s leader, and then renders him unconscious with a nerve ray. He plans to make The Thing a slave and transport him to the Skrull galaxy to battle in something called The Great Games.
What are The Great Games? They take place on the Skrull world of Kral. There, each year, participants are captured and brought in from worlds throughout the galaxies and forced to battle to the death in The Great Games. Once captured by the Skrulls, they relinquish all rights and are known only as “slaves.”
There are odds, bets, favorites and underdogs. The Games are the biggest entertainment spectacle of the year, televised and watched by nearly everyone. Two “slaves” are hand-picked before each contest and then forced to enter the arena, before a sellout crowd. They must battle to the death–only the death of one ensures victory for the other. Weapons are provided, tossed onto the arena floor, between the combatants, who then scratch and claw and fight for their use.
If a “slave” chooses not to fight, not to kill, the Skrulls have a device called the Sonic Disrupter, which they then direct at the resister’s home planet. The Disrupter fires a ray, forcing the planet out of its orbit, destined to fall into the sun. In this way, the combatants are forced to kill their opponent. It’s either kill in the arena, or have their own home world destroyed.
Of course, eventually, the rest of The Fantastic Four realize what’s happened, and through the often corny magic of 1960s-era comic books, they come to The Thing’s rescue. They even help to dismantle the Sonic Disrupter and put an end to the Great Games.
Obviously, in The Hunger Games, the tributes were children, not super-powered natives of other planets captured by a Skrull slave hunter. But the similarities are striking. The televised/entertainment spectacle of a society watching and relishing combatants fighting to the death, forced into the act by an oppressive, powerful government. The preparations beforehand, building the Games up to be the event of the year. The contest itself, with the fighters provided weapons to help them finish the job.
The differences between Fantastic Four # 90-93 and The Hunger Games are many and profound. The Hunger Games, being a novel and featuring rich and multi-layered characters, is a far more in-depth work. But the basic themes from these Fantastic Four issues resonate and penetrate through the veil of forty years. The basic concept is clearly a winner, and it captivates audiences.
Comic books are often trivialized and thought of as disposable entertainment, and many of them are. But there is a richness of ideas, concepts, fantasy, and wonder to be found in the pages of the classic FFs from the 1960s. Before Panem and Katniss, Peeta and Rue and District 12, there was The Thing, battling in The Great Games of the Skrull world of Kral.
Just ask Mitchell Brant. He’ll be sure to tell you all about it.
Thanks so much, as always, for reading!