When Fin Fang Foom first appeared on comic stands in the late summer of 1961, not even the most enthusiastic fan of the speedo-sporting space dragon had any expectation that the character had much of a future beyond his first appearance in Strange Tales #89.
In the cover story for that comic book, Fin Fang Foom was merely an ancient hibernating dragon who is deliberately awakened from his slumber in a cave by an anti-communist Taiwanese man, Chen Liuchow, whose homeland is under threat from the Red Chinese. Chen uses a special herb to awaken the dragon, and taunts Foom with the threat of another herb that will put him back to sleep. Chen goads Foom into chasing him, and leads him straight into the Communist invasion force, which Foom destroys. With the Red threat eliminated, Chen leads Fin Fang Foom back into his cave, where the sleep herb returns Foom to his hibernative state.
Fin Fang Foom’s story would have to wait another 13 years to be continued in Astonishing Tales #23 & 24 (1974). In that story, Foom is again awakened by someone who needs the dragon to eliminate a threat, this time a giant stone monster called “It, the Living Colossus” (who, like Foom, made his debut and previous appearance in 1961). Foom and the Colossus eventually join forces to foil an invasion from the planet Stonus V. Foom swims home and goes back to sleep.
Not until a long story appearing in Iron Man #261-275 (1991) do we learn Foom’s full back story.
It is revealed in flashback that Foom is an alien being from Maklu IV in the Greater Magellanic Cloud. Foom and his fellow Makluans arrived on Earth in ancient China, intending to conquer the planet. Using their natural shapeshifting powers to mimic human form, the aliens infiltrate human society to study it before beginning their conquest. The ship’s navigator (Foom) is the exception, and acting as a reserve is placed in a tomb in a state of hibernation
The Makluan vessel is eventually found by a supervillain, The Mandarin who steals ten sophisticated rings from it. The Mandarin was guided to the cave in the Valley of the Sleeping Dragon by a man called Chen Hsu, who is also an alien dragon and the captain of the vessel. The Mandarin finds and wakes Fin Fang Foom, using the dragon to threaten the Chinese government. Foom helps the Mandarin take control of one-third of China. With “Chen Hsu”, whose true form is also revealed, the pair begin to summon their fellows, who had been disguised as humans for centuries. Realizing he has been tricked, the Mandarin joins forces with the heroes Iron Man and War Machine to defeat the dragons.
Foom would make further appearances in the pages of Iron Man until apparently being exiled to Monster Isle by The Fantastic Four. After a five-year legal battle, Fin Fang Foom and three other Atlas age monsters are granted release from Monster Isle. Foom decides to reform and becomes a Buddhist. He enters a rehabilitation program with the other monsters, the robot Elektro; the giant ape Gorgilla, and the alien Googam. Foom is shrunk down to human size, hypnotically stripped of all his powers and allowed to enter human society. Foom becomes the head chef at a Chinese restaurant in the Baxter Building, taking time out to team up with the other monsters to defeat the size-changing warlord Tim Boo Ba. Foom also helps Doctor Strange’s servant, Wong to defeat a bunch of Hydra agents.
And you thought Fin Fang Foom was silly in 1961…