The two-part "Black Panther" story in FF #52-53 treats the advancement of the scientific wonderland of Wakanda in a spirit of ttriumphalism, celebrating the innate ability of the Third World to attain the lofty position of the Western nations. The recent film adaptation naturally takes the same celebratory attitude. I suspect, though, that any sequel to the film will not explore, as FF #54 does, the possible downside to scientific advancement.
EVIL EYE follows directly after the defeat of Klaw. The issue contains many excellent character-moments-- Lee and Kirby were still at the peak of their collaboration here-- and it continues the ongoing plotline of the Inhumans trapped in their own Great Refuge. I discussed both of these in detail in a more comprehensive essay, but here I'll elide everything not directly concerned with the narrative's main plot: the encounter of two of the heroes with the specter of one such vanished civilization.
...Lee hasn’t forgotten that Johnny is still a college student, for when he announces that he’s going to fly to the Great Refuge just to feel closer to his lost love, the hero mentions that he still has “a few weeks of vacation time left.” (Apparently Metro College is a progressive one, giving students multiple weeks of break-time!) Wyatt volunteers to go with his roomie, but because he can’t fly alongside Johnny, the Panther gives them an extra gift: a spherical ship called a “gyro-cruiser,” in which to travel to their destination. Wyatt’s dialogue makes explicit the liberal intentions of the creators, as he comments, “Apparently the talent of inventive genius is not limited to any one place, culture, or clime!”
With that, the two young men take off, and the senior members of the team disappear for the remains of the tale: one of the rare times none of them participate in any action more heroic than a ball-game. Gliding over the ground, the gyro-cruiser takes Johnny and Wyatt into “the open desert to the north”—implicitly, North Africa—and into a sandstorm. The storm itself doesn’t harm them, but the shifting sands cause the craft to plunge into a underground “crevice” The crevice proves to be a man-made shaft that drops the travelers into a buried temple with a monstrous bas-relief. (The statue’s design dominates page 10 much the way a giant panther-statue dominates page 4.) Within the temple Johnny and Wyatt find a man dressed in quasi-medieval clothing and apparently sleeping in a super-scientific throne.
The moment they enter, he wakes and stuns them with a handheld weapon that Johnny compares to a “flashlight,” and then he demands to know, in archaic language, what century it is. The knight identifies himself as Prester John, aka “The Wanderer,” and states that seven centuries have passed since he, once a contemporary of King Richard the Lionhearted, was placed in “the chair of survival” by the “men of Avalon.” He relates how, after some unspecified service to Richard, he wandered in search of the “countless wonders of far off lands,” but found his greatest triumph in “finding the fabled isle of Avalon.”
Like the Great Refuge Avalon is pictured as a super-technological redoubt in the midst of more primitive human cultures, but unlike the Refuge Avalon was destroyed by its own technology, evoking both the legend of vanished Atlantis and modern fears of nuclear devastation. The Wanderer concludes his lecture by once more displaying the power of his weapon, which he calls “the Evil Eye.” He temporarily places the duo in an unbreakable dome that just happens to resemble the dome surrounding the Great Refuge.
Prester John releases his captives, having only wanted to impress them. The Torch, convinced that the Evil Eye can be used to destroy the Inhumans’ confining barrier, begs to borrow it. For reasons that are not immediately clear, the knight claims that such a loan is “impossible.” If he intends to explain further, his words are lost on the lovestruck Torch, who snatches the Evil Eye from the Wanderer’s hands. He’s flown out of earshot, on his way to the Great Refuge, while the Wanderer tells Wyatt: that without the use of a “safety button,” the Evil Eye’s power will build until it explodes.
Wyatt and Prester John follow Johnny in the gyro-cruiser, which is suddenly able able to fly through the air. (One presumes that its earlier mode of travel-- gliding on the ground-- was emphasized to make it seem more natural when the sphere fell into the temple-shaft.) In addition to the craft having the ability to fly, it also stocks a handy “polarizer gun,” able to shoot a “solidified ray of light.” With this weapon Wingfoot, thanks to possessing “the blood of Comanche warriors,” knocks the Evil Eye from Johnny’s hand just in time. The weapon hits the ground and explodes with a mushroom cloud, “like an actual A-bomb.” Johnny survives the blast but for a moment he can only feel “blind rage” against Wyatt for his part in destroying a tool capable of freeing the Torch’s lady love. He subsides just as quickly, with Wyatt refraining from mentioning that Johnny’s own rash act caused the weapon’s destruction—and the issue ends with Johnny sinking dejectedly to his knees in a perfect expression of adolescent angst: “Maybe it would have been better—if you hadn’t saved me!”
The figure of the Wanderer is an interesting one as he’s one of the few characters Lee and Kirby introduce in the Middle Period who never returns. Indeed, though he was purportedly placed in the “chair of survival” in order to testify to future generations as to the lost glories of Avalon, he’s never seen again after the last page of #54, nor does Lee devote even a quick reference to his disposition.
As mentioned before the fate of Avalon is plainly a cautionary tale about nuclear catastrophe, underscored by the way Avalon's artifact explodes with a mushroom cloud. Even the Inhumans subplot, which has no direct relation to the Wanderer plot, has Black Bolt enter a chamber whose name—“cyclo-electronic chamber”—clearly evokes the word “cyclotron.” One might surmise that, even though Lee and Kirby were touting the desirability of a third-world country like Wakanda gaining technological parity with the West, the creators may have had some misgivings, knowing that technology had already let a nuclear genie out of its bottle. It’s significant that even though Prester John was evidently English and had traveled all over the world, Johnny and Wyatt find him in North Africa. The Crusades aren’t mentioned, but King Richard’s name strongly implies that Prester John served in the Crusades. Why does he return to North Africa for his big sleep? Probably the contiguity of fictional Wakanda to real-life North Africa suggested to the creators the possibility of a lost Crusader who woke from a prolonged sleep (also typical of a more archetypal knight, King Arthur). This made it possible for the former knight to relate all manner of wonders from the viewpoint of a medieval native. Lee and Kirby don’t directly preach as to the possibility of their own culture vanishing, as they do through the lecture of Galactus in FF#50, but surely the concern never wholly left their minds.
One other point is the Evil Eye itself. In folklore an “evil eye” is a power possessed by those of magical abilities to will evil upon others through a glance, sometimes without conscious intention on the part of the one with the baleful eye. This may be a symbolism that carries over to the device fashioned by the doomed scientists of Avalon: their Evil Eye, possessed of the power to destroy others, ends up being destroyed by its own power, even as its makers are.