Fantastic Four #8   Leave a comment

Fantastic Four #8

credits once again simply read “By Stan Lee and J. Kirby”

SYNOPSIS:

The story begins with Reed in his lab, working on his latest invention, when Ben comes home. Sue and Johnny try to keep him out of the lab, as Reed is working on a “top secret” project that they don’t want him to know about. Ben is angry and doesn’t understand why, as he is a member of the Fantastic Four and should be allowed to know what all of them know. He also brings up that they only call him “Ben” when they want something from him, the rest of the time, they cal him “Thing.” This is a pretty interesting touch, and gives Ben some deepening of his character. At this point, he isn’t a long-time friend of Reed’s, or a member of the family. He is written as just a pilot who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as such, doesn’t really feel like he is fully part of the team. His monstrous appearance already separates him from the other three on a physical level, now he lets it be known he feels separate from them on an emotional level as well. It’s the kind of complexity that was absent in super-hero comics until the Fantastic Four and one of the reasons it was such a terrific, groundbreaking comic at the time.

Naturally, Ben loses his temper and gets into a fight with Johnny. No early Fantastic Four adventure would be complete without a brawl between Thing and the Human Torch, and this issue is no exception. Reed breaks it up, as usual, and Thing storms out, quitting the team. Sue follows him, invisibly, trying to calm him down. they are harassed by some hoodlums, who quickly get disposed of, before Ben and Sue see a man on top of a bridge about to jump. They can’t reach him, so Sue shoots off the Ff flare gun, signaling for Reed and Johnny. Mr. Fantastic looks out a pair of binoculars and sees the man on the bridge and tries to stretch his hand al the way across the city to reach the jumper, but the man is just out of reach. it’s up to Johnny, who flames on and soars towards the man. As Johnny makes his way towards the man, he realizes the man is in a trance and not in control of his actions. As Johnny grabs him, we see a creepy, bald man with a doll of the man on a replica of the bridge. he is about to command the man to jump, when Johnny grabs him. As the Puppet Master tries to knock the doll off the bridge, his finger is burnt! He realizes the Torch must be responsible and decides that Johnny will be his next victim.

Back at his apartment, the Puppet Master is disturbed by his step-daughter, Alicia. alicia is blind and does not know what her step-father is up to. Puppet Master tells her to leave and begins his plan, carving a doll of The Thing out of radioactive clay he had discovered that allows him to control people. He places the doll of the Thing in a replica of PM’s room, which causes Ben to have an irresistible urge to walk towards the room. He makes his way across the city, towards the Puppet Master’s apartment, with Sue following him invisibly.

Ben arrives at Puppet Master’s home, followed by Sue. PM has no idea Sue is there, but Alicia, because of her reliance on her other senses, can hear Sue breathing and alerts her father to her presence. Puppet Master knows that the other person must be none other than the Invisible Girl, an occurrence he was prepared for. He dons a gas mask, also putting one on Alicia and Ben, then fills the room with ether, knocking Sue unconscious. upon getting KOed, Sue turns visible, an PM notices that Sue looks a lot like Alicia. He makes a costume and blond wig for her and orders her to go take Sue’s place in the FF as a “little prank.” Alicia, the most gullible person on the planet, agrees, but not before feeling Ben’s face. She notices how strong and powerful he is, but she also senses sensitivity and tragedy in his soul.

Puppet Master, using one of his dolls, steals the keys from the prison warden. Meanwhile, Alicia, dressed like Sue, enters the Baxter Building with a PM controlled Ben. Thing goes nuts when he comes in, attacking Reed and Johnny. Reed lures Ben into his lab, where Thing smashes through the experiment Reed was working on. Reed didn’t want Ben to know about it, because he was working on a cure for Ben’s monstrous appearance. He didn’t want Ben to know about it in case it didn’t work and disappointed him yet again The potion did work, however, and Thing is transformed into his human form. With his appearance no longer resembling the Puppet Master’s doll, the mind control ends, an Ben comes to his senses.

With ben back to his human form and no longer under PM’s control, the FF finally notice that the woman standing next to them is not Sue Storm. ben remembers that she is Alicia, the Puppet Master’s step-daughter. Alicia recognizes Ben’s voice, but when she feels his face, she no longer thinks of him as the “strong, kindly one.” As Alicia is feeling his face, ben starts to revery back to his Thing form, which makes Alicia happy. Ben is upset that the cure didn’t work, but he finds it odd that Alicia preferred him as The Thing.

The Puppet Master continues his master plan, using his dolls to start a prison break. As he is busy controlling a horde of criminals, Sue figures Puppet Master is too preoccupied to notice her making her escape. She tries to slip out invisibly, but Puppet Master hears a creaky floorboard and grabs a doll of Sue around the ankles, tripping up the real Sue. She falls to the ground but makes a last ditch effort to alert the rest of the FF, shooting her flare gun into the sky. The other members of the FF, flying around in the Fantasticar looking for Sue, see the flare and follow it to its source.

Upon arriving at Puppet Master’s home, the FF encounter his largest puppet: a gigantic robot that he mentally controls. Reed tries to tie up the robot with his stretchy body, but the robot just pummels Reed against a wall repeatedly. Thing wallops the robot with a huge punch and defeats it, but Puppet Master runs away on a winged horse puppet he made. Reed stretches and grabs Sue, but the flying horse is jet powered and too fast for the Torch to catch, which allows Puppet master to make his escape.

Before the Ff can decide how to proceed from here, they hear a news bulletin about the riot at the prison. deducing it must be the Puppet Master’s work, the FF make their way to the prison, knowing they will be needed to help with the riot. The prisoners have the warden hostage, using him as a bargaining chip to negotiate their escape. The Human Torch burns a tunnel into the room and rescues him, allowing the rest of the FF to spring into action.

The Thing uses one of the prisoners as a bowling pin, throwing him into a group of convicts, knocking the wind out of them. he then takes a bunch of prison doors and bends them together, making a big cage that he throws on top of them, trapping them. Reed dispatches another group of criminals, with a very creative use of his powers. The rioting men shoot at him with a machine gun, but Reed uses his elastic body to catch the bullets and slingshot them back at the criminals. He then grabs all of their guns and Johnny throws a ring of fire around them. Trying to feel useful, Sue grabs one prisoner of her own with a gun she picked up.

With the prison under control, the story goes back to the Puppet Master’s apartment, where Alicia sits sadly, realizing her step-father was an evil man and hoping he doesn’t want her help with more of his crimes in the future. PM returns, telling Alicia he made a puppet of himself as the ruler of the world. Alicia doesn’t think any man should have that much power and she fights with him over the puppet. In the struggle, Puppet master falls out the window to the ground below as the FF burst into the room. Alicia is consoled by The Thing as the FF wonder what made the Puppet Master fall as we see the King Puppet Master doll laying on the floor.

COMMENTS:

This issue introduces one of my personal favorite Fantastic Four villains, The Puppet Master. I don’t even know why I like PM so much. He has a creepy look, for one. Plus, the idea of using the FF as opponents for each other is a good one. As the four are all very powerful, it’s interesting to see how they match up with each other.

During the story, there is a full page of info where the Human Torch answers questions about his powers. He explains that his costume is made of unstable molecules, which is why it doesn’t burn. He also coats his regular clothes and his entire bedroom with flame resistant chemicals so they won’t burn if he has to flame on. He goes on to explain that he has complete control over his flame that allows him to only burn parts of his body, allowing him to carry people without burning them, as well as do delicate welding, or hurling big fireballs. Johnny also has the power to burn at nova intensity, comparable to that of a star, but he doesn’t dare do it too often.

I really like this particular feature, where Lee and Kirby put some real thought into their characters and try to come up with some answers to questions that are at least somewhat believable and based on logic, as opposed to just the usual comic book magic. It’s a level of thought that hadn’t really been put into super hero books in the past, and it’s a big reason why comics would eventually become acceptable to read by adults as well as young children.

This story also introduces Alicia, one of the great supporting characters in Fantastic Four history. She is the first one to see past Ben’s gruff exterior, and this is the first time we get a notion that the hot tempered, angry Ben has a sentimental, sensitive interior inside his monstrous body. It is Ben who consoles her at the end of the story and Alicia is clearly fascinated with this gruff, strong man with a gentle soul. Their relationship is one of the great love stories in all of comics, as Ben will struggle with wanting to look human again, but knowing that the woman he loves prefers him as the monstrous Thing. It’s a truly great, emotional situation, one that is miles ahead of what had been seen in comics before. it is the kind of emotional gut punch that Stan Lee will become famous for.

After last issues silliness, this issue is a return to form. The story is great, the villain is top notch, the Fantastic Four have clever uses of their amazing powers, and we even get the introduction of Alicia, a truly terrific character who will have a part in a large number of classic stories in the future. I really enjoyed this issue a great deal, one of my favorites up to this point.

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