Sunday, January 26, 2014

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #22: All Hail the G.C.A.J.T.A.! Part Two




Q.N.S., K.O.F., R.F.O.

When I was seven, I fell hard for the comic book romance between teenagers Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, and buxom, orange-tressed Crystal, one of the (in her case, Hubba-Hubba) Inhumans, in the pulse-pounding pages of Fantastic Four. My family had just moved to rural Colorado, seeking shelter from the chaos of the late Sixties, but wherever you go, there you are, and my parents still got along like Agnew and Abbie Hoffman. Kids have no measuring stick for behavior, so growing up in Dysfunction Junction was "normal," and only decades later did I realize the FF had provided me with far more than Clobberin' Time adventure. By overcoming separation and super-villains, Johnny and Crys held out the hope that love could triumph over long odds, Great Barriers and Galactus (flying plates of spaghetti and angry, irrational outbursts) be damned.

Memoir has its place, but this being an academic institution, last Sunday's installment also time-lined our star-crossed lovers, from Johnny's first across-the-rubble glimpse of Crys in FF #45, through Jack Kirby's last hurrah, issue #102.

The then offical Bullpen line that Kirby "only" drew the FF was nonsense; Stan-as-all-powerful-Oz propaganda. Jack plotted the stories, created the characters (most famously, the Silver Surfer popped up in the art Kirby turned in for issue #48, without a word to Stan about the naked guy hangin' ten), decided who socked or smooched who. This isn't to slight Lee, whose witty, with-it dialogue/narration was the other half of the FF's alchemistic equation, but an honest division of labor appraisal is that Stan "only" captioned the stories. Jack did all the heavy lifting. Then, after nearly a decade, he was gone.

Pinch-hit artist John Romita, uncomfortable in Kirby's big shoes, drew to order for Stan, who was suddenly alone at the rudder of Marvel's original flagship title. And if Lee proved incapable of further invention, well, he could break some of Kirby's toys.


#103-104: In the first Lee/Romita offering, Crys is abruptly demoted to bench-warmer "stay-behind-and-monitor-communications" status, while the boys tackle Namor & Magneto. Her powers still prove pivotal at the climax of #104.

#105: Crys, eating a street vendor hot dog on the splash page, suddenly feels weak and collapses a couple pages later. This is the exact moment Stan starts writing her out of the book.

Whether this was a conscious Screw Jack decision to dump a character Kirby had recently brought center-stage, or a more general example of Lee's editorial dictum of allowing core Marvel characters only the "illusion of change", we'll never know. We do know the result: by P. 9, Reed discovers Crys has no immunity to urban pollution; by P.14, Lockjaw blips her back to the Great Refuge. A mere three months after Kirby's departure, it was really all over for Crys and Johnny. Like many a guy who's been dumped, it just took me and the Torch a long time to realize it.

#107: Having heard nothing from Crys since her departure, Johnny flies atop an old water tower and laments, "Sue and Reed have each other – and Ben has Alicia! I'm the only one – alone."

#113: The first mention of Crys in months finds Johnny jonesin' so hard for her that he leaps from the Baxter Building, having forgotten to flame on!

#117: J&C return center stage in "The Flame and the Quest" His heart-sick patience at an end, Johnny flies off to the Great Refuge and learns that Crys never returned home after leaving New York. Agatha Harkness' crystal ball later reveals the orange-haired hottie in thrall to Diablo in Central America, where the second-rate sorcerer is passing off the doped-up elemental as a local goddess.


#118: Diablo is defeated, but Crys must head back to the GR, where Maximus is said to be again challenging the throne. In retrospect, John Buscema's in-silhouette final kiss foreshadows that darkness is falling.

#119: Ben and Johnny bicker over an off-hand crack the Thing makes about Crys. Damage to the Baxter Building ensues.

#126: The Torch reminds self-pitying Ben that he has Alicia, while Johnny's soulmate is half a world away. God damned pollution.

#127: Johnny considers dating other girls, but knows it's pointless because "I hear (Crystal's) name in every breeze, see your face in even a cloudless sky." Hardly shallow, this kid, nor a "douche," although some cranky, feminine hygiene-obsessed senior professors continue to insist otherwise. They also scream neighbor kids off their lawn, and are "rumored" to drown kittens for sport.

#129: I cheered Johnny's decision to "join Crystal in the land of the Inhumans – permanently," figuring the long-awaited reunion was finally at hand. Surely, big-brain Reed would cure Crys pollution sickness, returning her to active duty. Johnny blasts-off in the FF's rocket, only to be shot out of the sky over the Great Refuge. And it wasn't Mad Max who gave the order, but Black Bolt!

#130: Triton tells Johnny they blasted him from the sky because "Black Bolt wanted to make certain that he saw you – before you saw Crystal." Spying her now, atop a tower like Rapunzel, Torchie eschews further explanation and zooms off. Gorgon and Triton give chase but, not to be kept from his beloved a moment longer, Johnny burns his way into her chamber. "I had prayed...I'd never see you again!" Crys says. Hardly the expected welcome. Then she stands aside, reducing our firebrand to gape-mouthed incredulity as he beholds...

#131: ...Pietro Maximoff, a.k.a. Quicksilver, last seen in Avengers #99, severely injured after a high-speed Roadrunner dash into a wall. Crys reveals that after leaving Johnny in Central America, Lockjaw's erratic teleportation power sent her hither and yon before they popped into the Sentinels' Australian molehill and found the injured speed-freak. While nursing him back to health, they fell for each other. Crys claims not to know who she really loves, but that's mere dramatic pause by Roy Thomas. During the two years since Crys left, it never occurred to me that she wouldn't eventually return, but now the break-up was all but a formality. Oh, foolish youth...

#132: Johnny, all stiff upper lip, pretends to accept the split for Crys' sake, but twelve year old Mark sure didn't. I resolved to fight on for Crystal's heart, but how?


If the chummy playground of the Marvel Bullpen was largely fiction (and one of Stan's greatest creations), Marvel's relationship with their frantic fans was the real deal. Realizing Crys and Johnny's ultimate fate rested with the readers, I lugged Mom's typewriter into my bedroom and hammered out a J+C manifesto, denouncing Quicksilver as a cuckolding Mutie bastard (if not in those exact words). Crys was of course blameless; she'd been duped, seduced, perhaps zapped by uncle Maximus' heartbreak ray, and this must be put right, prompting the restoration of my Marvel Universe.

I slept a righteous sleep that night, but in the cold morning light realized a single letter wouldn't turn the editorial tide. I had to go bigger, but how? The problem gnawed at me all day at school, between mooning over Debbie Kusma (imagining her with orange hair) and junior high b-ball practice, before the answer dawned. One letter could be ignored, but a flood of mail from outraged Marveldom would soon have Crys back in her skin-tight FF blues, again igniting the Matchhead's wick. Thus the G.C.A.J.T.A. was born: GET CRYSTAL AND JOHNNY TOGETHER AGAIN!

Sure, the name's a bit on the nose. I could have gone with something punchier like the J.C.F: JOHNNY AND CRYSTAL FOREVER, or the F.F.F.F.C: FF FANS FOR CRYSTAL, but I wasn't much of an editor at twelve, so the G.C.A.J.T.A. it was. And I was off and running, er, typing.

There was no Facebook-Tweety social media in 1973, the only computers in sight on Star Trek reruns. Long distance phone calls were expensive, used only to report births or deaths, but no matter. From my rural fortress of solitude, I would manufacture consent. And so the letters began pouring forth from distressed Crys & Johnny fans worldwide - Billy Kline in Fort Worth, Janet Summers in Reno, Tina Pickford in London - all routed through G.C.A.J.T.A. National Headquarters, Rt. 1, Kiowa, CO.

And all written by me. On three-hole notebook paper, banged out on an ancient Underwood typewriter that out-weighted a Volkswagen. The Crys-centric salvos ranged in length from a single incendiary sentence to page-long diatribes. Sadly, none of the actual letters survive to document the activist passion of a pre-teen comic geek, on a mission to impose his will on his favorite funny book.

Process: I'd churn out six or seven  pages of letters, all that could be crammed into a small envelope, hand addressed to Marvel's New York offices, then turned over to my Dad - who commuted over a hundred miles a day - for mailing. Two or three batches went out every week (at a whopping eight cents per stamp), building what I hoped would be irresistible Heed-Us-Marvel momentum. In those horse-and-buggy days, it took at least three months for fan letters to appear in print. So three months passed, interminably long days of haunting our distant mailbox for the next ish, then four months, five, and...nothing.

Not a single broadside from my phantom host of Crys and Johnny aficionados ever appeared on the Fantastic Four Fan Page. This shocked me as much as the breakup itself, and for a couple months I redoubled my efforts, cranking out even more letters. Hey Marvel: G.C.A.J.T.A.! Beth in Brisbane, Felix in Philly and Tony from Tampa demand it. Don't force us to cancel those subscriptions! At some point, my efforts wound down like a broken toy and finally stopped all together. Crystal and Johnny never reconciled, and I didn't lapse my FF subscription until around 1977, when I stopped buying comics for more than twenty-five years.

Looking back at my quixotic PR campaign, its easy to chuckle at how a twelve year old's manic enthusiasm can mask obvious flaws in a master plan. Like how did my imaginary army of C&J boosters learn about the G.C.A.J.T.A, then decide, en masse, to rout their collective outrage through "national headquarters" in rural Colorado? Why did "headquarters" then retype the letters, rather than bundling them together for forwarding to the Bullpen? I may have offered the rationale that combining letters saved on postage, but it's pretty thin gruel, I know. What the hell? I was twelve.

Some might suspect that, after the first couple dozen letters, my Dad just humored me, never mailing the prodigious G.C.A.J.T.A. output at all.  


This was a man (gone two years next month, at 94) who, every Friday, would add to his daily 100+ mile roundtrip to Martin-Marietta by driving an additional fifteen miles to civilization to pick-up supplies not available in Kiowa's single, sawdust-on-the-floor Superette. By 1973, his shopping list included my expanding Marvel Buy-List, which often required Dad hit several drug stories to fill.

No, he mailed the letters. The real question is why such a constant barrage of correspondence, even if obviously from one deluded fan, never prompted Marvel to print a single letter, if only to wink at my game. We can only speculate that whoever was in charge of fan mail, post-Flo Steinberg, thought it best not to encourage this sort of behavior by any acknowledgment at all.

Still, I fought the good fight for Johnny and Crys, who remain my all-time favorite comic couple. And paging through ninety issues of the FF to research this article re-kindled my appreciation for some truly classic Kirby-Lee storytelling, and for the passion those comics evoked in me as a kid.

Coda: within the last couple years, I was going through the small portion of my comic collection that's survived since childhood, finally bagging & boarding my Marvel Team-Ups when, in issue #35, I found:

I have no memory of writing this letter. But I do think Marvel owes me forty-some years of royalties for What If...

As for the Exquisite Elemental, well, maybe it's fitting that Crystal really left the book, not in issue #132, but when Jack Kirby did. And, just as Bogey and Bergman will always have Paris, I'll always have FF #81.


  1. Very nice article that captures what it was like to be a rabid young fan in the 1970s! Thanks for revealing the mystery of that acronym.

  2. Excellent stuff, Mark! Fun, thorough and fun. A great history of a probably long-forgotten couple, which is unfortunate but they'll live on here for sure, if not in all smart FF fanboys' memories.

  3. "#Hardly shallow, this kid, nor a "douche," although some cranky, feminine hygiene-obsessed senior professors continue to insist otherwise." Hey! I resemble that remark!

    While my overall opinion of Johnny stands (see his behavior on a regular basis toward anyone at any time), I also lamented the departure of Crystal - although I wasn't really there when it originally happened. I had to catch it in reruns. I loved them as a couple and was bummed that she was written out of the series. Although, we should be happy Stan didn't drop her off a bridge...

  4. Prof Joe:
    Crys and Johnny are only "long-forgotten" to you young whippersnappers! You should request the Dean send you some digital FFs.

    Prof Scott:
    You DO resemble that remark, but I had no desire to out you publicly, calling into question all your opinions about everything! Just kiddin'; knowing you dug C&J creates a MU blood brother bond. You now have floor sleeping privileges, should you ever come to SD for Comic-Con. Too bad you weren't around to '73 to crank out some letters! Hate J.S. all you like, but I find the pejorative "douche" odious except in special cases, that's just me. Beyond that, it's too easy now; your to-go Johnny Storm card. Call him a cad, oafish, a cry-baby drama queen, a human Bounty towel of self-absorption, whatever. Mix it up, baby.

  5. Stan Lee was nearly flawless as a writer, but he really goofed when he wrote Crystal out of the Fantastic Four. Johnny and Crys made a great couple and Crystal's powers are awesome and added much to the team. Some say that Stan only dropped her so he would not have to change the name of the comic to Fantastic Five and since he could not bring himself to replace Sue with Crystal, so his only alternative was to have Crystal fade away.

  6. Interesting that in his last couple of years on the title, Stan not only broke up Johnny & Crystal but also started the bickering between Reed & Sue that led to their separation and near divorce, as further chronicled by Thomas & Conway after Stan split.