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Fantastic Four #14: Reed is a Pig! or A Fish for Every Need!   1 comment

FANTASTIC FOUR #14

Script: Stan Lee

Art: Jack Kirby

Inking: Dick Ayers

Lettering; Art Simek

SYNOPSIS:

After defeating The Red Ghost and hi Super-Apes last issue, the FF are returning to Earth. They are first humans to make a round trip to the Moon and are expecting a heroes welcome when they return. As the FF land the space ship, they see a huge mob of reporters and on-lookers gathered to witness the landing, which is being broadcast to TV stations around the entire globe.

When The Fantastic four emerge from the plane, they are met by throngs of fans, reporters and people looking to make a quick buck. Reed is grabbed by two rival factions of the Mr. Fantastic Fan Club, who are swooning over the handsome scientist/super-hero. Ben Grimm sees a promoter who is challenging Ben to take on his wrestler in a match, a challenge Ben answers in his usual fashion: he grabs the wrestler by the legs and dumps in head first into a garbage can. Sue is offered both a lifetime Hollywood contract and the chance to endorse a deodorant on TV.

For some reason, nobody seems too interested in Johnny and he uses the opportunity to try out a new trick. He flies around in a circle faster and faster, making a current of air that sucks up his teammates and flies them to the top of their skyscraper headquarters. Back inside, the four are happy to be home, when they have this glorious exchange:

Sue: Hmmm, I think I better do a little house cleaning!

Reed: Just so long as you do it silently!

This male chauvinist pig is the guy all those teenage women were fawning over two pages earlier? the Marvel universe was a very special place in the 1960s. And Reed actually wonders why Sue won’t choose him over Namor?

After this incident, Reed goes looking for Sue. Is it to apologize for talking to her as if she were an abused orphan child in a Charles Dickens novel? Of course not! Reed needs her to do some typing for him! Reed finds her looking at the ocean floor on TV, searching for Namor. Reed wishes the FF would find Namor again so they could settle their differences once and for all, then wanders off, leaving Sue to do his typing for him while he thinks about how wonderful he is and how he can do anything he sets his mind to…..except win the heart of the woman he loves. I swear I am not making this up. This is what happens in the story.

Our story then shifts to a local sanitarium, where a mysterious man is being released. The official at the looney bin says the man is cured and can be released. The man replies that he has been cured for months, but he is staying at the sanitarium so the world can forget him, something that other people would not understand. Which is clearly an indication that this man is not, in fact, sane and should not be released into society. Of course, this being the wacky Marvel U, nobody thinks this answer is strange and the man walks out, revealing himself to be the Puppet Master. PM is ready to seek revenge on the FF and he will use the Sub-Mariner to do it.

Namor is swimming under the sea, looking for clues as to the whereabouts of his lost people. He finds some evidence of their existence, but he is overtaken by the Puppet Master before he can investigate further. Namor uses his “Mento-Fish” to send his thoughts to Sue Storm, pleading with her to come to meet him. Sue receives the message telepathically and takes off, making sure she isn’t seen by her male teammates in the Fantastic Four. Sue finds Namor on a pier, where he uses a “hypno-fish” to hypnotize Sue. The fish then encases her in an air bubble and Namor brings him under the ocean to his aquatic home.

Back at the Baxter Building, Reed is testing the limits of Ben’s strength, while Johnny screws around with them. Namor suddenly appears and Torch attacks him, flying straight through him. Reed informs them that one of Namor’s powers is the ability to project a holographic image of himself using his Atlantean undersea technology. Namor informs the FF that he has Sue held captive and he dares them to come and get her. The FF check to see if Sue is around, as they never notice her absence until they need the ironing done or something, and find out she is gone. This causes the FF to launch into action as the Puppet Master, in a Navy surplus sub, gloats about his master plan.

Before they leave, the FF make plans in case they don’t return. Reed and Johnny go to leave the keys to their secret files with the police commissioner while Ben goes to say goodbye to Alicia. Alicia is terrified about the FF going to fight Namor, especially in his undersea domain. Ben, feeling horrible that he made his girlfriend cry, decides to take her with them. Naturally, if I was going to fight my most powerful opponent in the environment where was at his strongest, I would bring my blind girlfriend with me too.

The FF and Alicia hop into a undersea vehicle they borrowed from a Navy Admiral and head to the ocean floor, looking for Namor. They have no clue where he is, so they just randomly explore the deepest parts of the ocean, hoping to stumble upon him. Because it’s not like the ocean is that big or anything.

They must be getting close to Namor’s undersea home, as they are suddenly attacked by super powered porcupine fish that shoot needles at them, followed by something causing an undersea tornado. The escape that only to be swallowed a gigantic undersea clam, which gives off chloroform vapors that put the FF and Alicia to sleep.

They awake in Namor’s undersea fortress, where Namor declares they are his prisoners. Reed boasts that they were not taken prisoner, but instead finally succeeded in tracking down Namor. I’m sure that bing knocked unconscious by a giant, chloroform emitting clam was all part of Reed’s master plan.

namor shows the FF that he has Sue encased in a giant air bubble, which is being assaulted by the mightiest giant octopus in the seven seas. Then, for the first time in this issue, Reed says something that actually doesn’t make him sound like either a male chauvinist pig or a total moron. He realizes that Namor actually loves Sue and would never willingly put her in that much danger. Something must be wrong here.

The insanity continues as the FF do battle with Namor, who uses various fish as weapons. He uses a flame eating fish in the shape of a two pronged battle club to beat up the Human Torch. When The Thing joins the fray, Namor first attacks him with a giant razor sharp needle fish, then throws some undersea fungus at him, which expands and hardens, trapping Ben in a giant stone like ball. Thing uses his super strength to burst free, much to Namor’s surprise.

Reed decides he will take on Namor one on one while Ben goes to rescue Sue. Reed uses his stretchy body to trap the Sub-Mariner in an elastic cage. Meanwhile, Thing jumps into the watery tank and attacks the octopus, tossing him out of the cage. He also talks a lot of trash, using his before now unrevealed power to speak underwater. Ben then rescues Sue and mentions how happy he is she hasn’t made a sound during the ordeal, observing he has never met a woman who could keep her mouth closed this long. Women’s Lib was probably started because of Stan Lee dialogue.

The Puppet Master is unhappy with how the fight is going and decides he needs to intervene. Puppet Master orders Namor to kill the FF. Namor takes his ultimate weapon, a fish that is shaped like the barrel of a Gatling gun and releases a gas that no living thing can withstand. How he plans on surviving this is something he doesn’t appear to give much thought to. Alicia senses another presence, a mental controlling power, like that of her step-father. Reed realizes that would explain everything and tries to reason with Namor, and Sub-Mariner struggles with the mental control he is under.

Namor fails an releases the deadly gas, but Reed was prepared and covers everyone face with “Flex-O-Gen” plastic sheeting. I don’t know what that is or why reed didn’t sell it to the US military for millions of dollars. I think he secretly likes to reveal his greatest inventions only in dramatic situations.

Meanwhile, as the FF attack Namor while Sue begs them not to, the giant octopus that ben flung to the ceiling crashes through the dome and into the ocean. The octopus, angry at being hurled across a high tech death palace and into the ocean, attacks the first thing it sees, which is the Puppet Master’s submarine. PM tries to control the octopus, using his clay to make a puppet of the octopus. ¬†He is forced to use the clay that comprises the Namor puppet, as he only has seconds to make the puppet. Namor is freed from the PM’s control, but it was al for naught, as Puppet Master can not control the mind of a creature that is almost mindless. The octopus assaults the sub as Namor comes to his senses.

Sub-Mariner has no memory of what happened, but he is hoping Sue has come to share his undersea kingdom with him. Sue says her loyalty is with Reed, but her heart may one day belong to Namor. With the incident over, Namor has no desire to fight the FF. He only wants to continue his search for his missing race of “Sub-Mariners.” the FF leave the undersea domain, wondering if Namor will ever be their friend and if the Puppet Master was really behind this altercation.

COMMENTS:

This issue continues the recurring theme of Reed being, to put it bluntly, a real piece of shit. Seriously, this guy is a grade A asshole. He tells Sue if she cleans the house, she should do it quietly so as not to disturb him. Next time he goes to see her, is it to apologize? No, it’s to have her type up his report to NASA about his new rocket fuel. He berates her, gives her menial secretarial chores to do, then goes off to wonder why she doesn’t love him completely.

This issue brings forth some classic Lee/Kirby FF wackiness. The Hypno-fish and Mento-Fish are beyond strange. the gigantic clam that emits chloroform vapors is so strange I don’t even know what to say about it.

It’s nice to see The Puppet Master return, as he was a great villain and a lot of fun. Also, since Alicia has become a regular supporting character as Ben’s girlfriend, there is a nice added layer of Puppet Master being Alicia’s step-father. It makes him part super-villain, part evil pseudo-family member.

I also really like Namor back as the villain. It’s very surprising to me how Namor, and not Dr. Doom, seems to be the FF’s primary opponent. He’s a really great foil for them, as not only is he physically a match for the entire team in a fight, the Reed-Sue-Namor love triangle always makes for interesting drama. At this point in the history of the Fantastic Four, I find Namor to be, by far, their most interesting opponent. He isn’t evil, he is a confused monarch without a kingdom, looking for the rest of his people and blaming the surface world for their disappearance. His motivations are far more complex than the usual super-villain fare, and his fight scenes are always wacky fun.

Another small thing I like about this story is that while the readers know the Puppet Master was behind it all, Namor and the FF have no idea if it was really him or not. They thought he was dead after their last altercation with him. Now, they do not know if he has returned, or if their is some new menace that orchestrated events. It’s a nice little touch.

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Fantastic Four #12   Leave a comment

FANTASTIC FOUR #12

Script: Stan Lee

Art: Jack Kirby

Inking: Dick Ayers

Lettering: Art Simek

SYNOPSIS:

This issue begins with Alicia and Ben Grimm leaving the symphony after hearing a performance of Beethoven’s fifth. Alicia was mightily impressed with the performance, while Ben longs for some New Orleans jazz. As they leave the theater, a man spots a company of infantrymen, and while pointing them out to his wife, accidentally knocks Ben’s hat and glasses off. Ben realizes the man made an innocent mistake and lets the incident drop without any action.

Just joking.

Ben does his usual routine of blowing his top and picking the man up, lifting him up into the air with ease to give him a better vantage point of the action. The military men see the strength of the Thing and his monstrous appearance and think he may be the one they are looking for. The army men spring into action, attacking Ben and trying to subdue him. Ben fights them off and escapes all of their tactics with his great strength, before they finally gain the upper hand with some special knock-out gas. Before they can pounce on the weakened Thing, their captain shows up, telling them they have made a mistake. They are fighting the Thing, when the one they are looking for is the Hulk.

Ben is enraged he was mistaken for the Hulk and is in a foul mood as he drops off Alicia and makes his way back to the Baxter Building. He dropped the special key that opens the elevator door to the FF’s headquarters at the top of the building so he does what any of us would do in his situation: he rips the door out of the wall and climbs up the elevator cables to the 35th floor, where his teammates are waiting for him to return from his date with Alicia.

Ben tells them what happened, still angry that the army thought he was the Hulk. Reed explains that they just got a call from a General “Thunderbolt” Ross concerning the Hulk. Ross shows up and says that he needs the Fantastic Four’s help. Some military missile installations in the desert have been sabotaged and the Hulk is the only one that could have done it. He needs the FF to find and destroy the Hulk.

The FF start to argue amongst themselves over who will be the one to capture the Hulk. The Thing says that his super-strength will allow him to defeat the Hulk. The Human Torch says Ben doesn’t have a shot, as the Hulk will first fall to his flame powers. Reed claims that if the Hulk can get past Ben and Johnny, he will be ready to use his elastic body to ensnare him. Sue has no idea how she will be useful at all. General Ross claims that a pretty lady is always useful, as she can help keep the boys morale up just by being around them. Reed says that is pretty much her purpose. It is basically a giant condescending, male-chauvinist speech which Sue takes in stride. 1962 was a special, special time.

Johnny, who has been “flamed on” for this entire issue for some reason that was not made clear, runs out of flame and falls on the ground. General Ross questions having Johnny along on such a dangerous mission, seeing as how he is so young. If Johnny was a pretty girl, Ross would have no problem with it though. Reed sticks up for Johnny, saying his flame is one of their most potent weapons, along with Johnny’s mechanical skills. He shows these off by showing Ross the adjustments Johnny made to the Fantasticar. It seems the fans have been writing in and complaining that the Fantasticar looks like a flying bath tub, so Johnny redesigned it, making it more cool looking. The FF decide to show off the Fantasticar by flying General Ross in it to their destination.

They arrive at the military base, where they meet up with Dr. Bruce Banner, his assistant, Dr. Karl Kort, and his “young helper,” Rick Jones. Bruce is convinced the Hulk is not the culprit. The missile installations look like they were destroyed from the inside out, while the Hulk clearly would have destroyed them from the outside in. Ross will hear none of it and Reed doesn’t seem to be in the mood to even acknowledge this very basic piece of scientific evidence that proves the Hulk is probably innocent.

It’s been a few pages since Ben threw a temper tantrum, so he flies off the handle for no real reason. At first he is mad because Kort is surprised that a walking, talking pile of rocks is standing next to him. Mid rampage, Ben decides he is mad because Reed is having a private meeting with Ross and Banner while the rest of the team is hanging around being on fir and invisible and foul tempered. He bursts into the room, complaining about being left out of the meeting. The rest of the FF start to fight with Ben in the middle of the office. General Ross is flustered, but Reed lets him know that this kind of thing happens all the time.

After the FF stop fighting amongst themselves, Ross yells at them for acting the way they do. I’m surprised they don’t get this lecture every issue. Thing decides to yell at Ross, who fires back that Ben is probably scared of the Hulk. Ben reacts by taking a huge stack of books off of the shelf and tearing them all in half at the same time, claiming he will do the same to the Hulk when he meets him. Ross is very upset at this, because Ben has destroyed his “bound set of telephone books.” Reed tells him that they will reimburse him for the collection, but to be careful what he says to the Thing in the future. This is probably the strangest thing I have ever seen in my thirty years reading comic books. Why would anybody collect phone books? And who has them bound in leather? No wonder General Ross fails all the time while trying to capture the Hulk. The man is clearly insane.

Speaking of insane, the next plot point is pretty bizarre, even by Lee and Kirby standards. When Karl Kort left, he dropped his wallet, which Johnny found. Johnny gave it to Rick to return to Kort, and Rick goes to do so. While walking towards Kort’s room, he sees a card sticking out of the wallet, which turns out to be a membership card in a subversive communist organization. No wonder the Soviet Union collapsed, they sent their secret agents to the USA with cards in their wallets identifying them as Communist spies!

Meanwhile, the FF get ready to capture The Hulk by fixing a “rocket sled” for the military. The rocket sled resembles a bizarre chair on a track and the Thing is strapped into it like an astronaut. He goes flying down the track, but some mysterious metal prongs jut out of the ground and break the track, sending Ben flying into the air. The Human Torch flies over and grabs Ben, but Thing is too heavy and Johnny can’t hold him. He slows the Things descent just enough to give Reed time to get underneath them and form his body into a trampoline and catch the falling Thing.

Just then, Bruce Banner comes rushing onto the scene, saying Rick jones is missing and has been captured by “The Wrecker,” which is what Banner calls the mysterious saboteur. The FF balk, saying they know it’s The Hulk who is causing all of the damage. ¬†Banner says the Hulk is innocent, but will not tell the Fantastic Four how he knows this. with the FF not listening to him, Banner decides to take matter into his own hands. Using a machine that reenacts the effects of the gamma bomb on his body, Banner transforms into the Incredible Hulk.

Karl Kort takes Rick Jones into the secret tunnels underneath the military base, where he is holding him hostage. The Hulk also knows about the secret tunnels and goes down them, looking for Rick. While he searches the secret tunnels, he hears the fantastic Four, who also found out about them. I don’t think Stan lee is quite sure what the word “secret” means, as every character in this story knows about the supposedly secret tunnels.

The Hulk lies in wait as the much anticipated meeting finally takes place. The Hulk comes face to face with the Fantastic Four! Hulk wastes no time proving who is the strongest one there is, knocking the Thing for a loop with a left hook. Johnny tries to get in on the action, but the Hulk just picks up a bunch of the ground and throws it at Johnny, covering him in dirt and dousing his flame. The Hulk heads to the land above, packing the hole he created with dirt and rocks, but there is just enough of a crack left in the ground to allow Mr. Fantastic to pop his elastic arms through and grab the Hulk.

Reed can’t hold the powerful Hulk, who breaks free and responds by throwing a house at the FF. Hulk decides he needs to take the FF out one at a time, but before he can attack the Thing, Reed wraps his body around the Hulk. This didn’t work five seconds ago and it doesn’t work this time, either. Johnny tries to attack the Hulk again, but Hulk defeats him easily, slamming his hands together and creating a sonic boom that flattens johnny, Reed, and even Sue, who Kirby and Lee finally remember is supposed to be a part of the fight. Only the Thing remains, and he grapples with the Hulk, the two of them talking a lot of trash to one another. Hulk is overpowering Ben, but before he can decisively win the fight, an “atom powered ray” shoots out of the ground, hitting Hulk in the head and knocking him out cold.

Thing thinks he won, but sue informs he wasn’t what defeated the Hulk. Thing is angry that his victory was stolen from him and tears into the ground where the beam originated from, finding a gigantic robot. Thing makes short work of the giant robot, which they theorize the Wrecker used to simulate damage caused by the Hulk. Thing then discovers a giant door, which he enters, followed by an invisible Sue. They discover the Wrecker, who is still brandishing the gun he used to defeat the Hulk. He tries to shoot the Thing with it, but Sue uses her invisibility to sneak up to him and knock his aim off. thing grabs the Karl Kort, who they realize is the Wrecker, just as Johnny and Reed make their entry to the secret room.

Up above, the Hulk realizes the FF have captured Kort and saved Rick Jones. Feeling weak and not wanting to risk another fight with the Thing before regaining his full strength, the Hulk jumps away, content with Kort being captured and his friend Rick safe. The FF say their goodbyes, but get a ceremony rewarding them with medals before they fy off, being watched by the Hulk, who wonders if they will meet again.

COMMENTS:

This is a very historic issue, as it is the first ever meeting between the Fantastic Four and the Hulk. It seems as if in the early days of the Marvel universe, the heroes spent as much time fighting each other as they did super-villains. The confrontations between the FF and the Hulk are easily my favorite “hero vs hero” fights in comics. Power wise, they match up well and the fight is usually very even. Also, Hulk holds a special place in the FF rogues gallery (and I do consider the Hulk an FF “villain” as they will clash many times over the years). While almost all of the FF villains either have an issue with the entire team or with Reed Richards, Hulk is one of the only opponents who is primarily a Thing rival.

The Hulk and the Thing are very similar. Both were normal men turned into monsters by accident. Both are feared by the public and both are known for their tempers. The main difference between them is that the Hulk spends art of his time as a monster while the Thing is a monster full time. When Bruce Banner is in Hulk form, he is more powerful than Thing, but he also takes on a separate personality. Thing is not as powerful, but he retains his mind while in his monstrous form. The Thing shouldn’t be able to stand toe to toe with the Hulk, yet he always does, because his enormous heart and determination make up for his lesser power level.

The first ever fight between the Fantastic Four and the Hulk is a lot of fun, as the Hulk uses his power and cunning to go toe to toe with the entire FF. At this point, both the FF and the Hulk are in the early stages of their time as heroes, and are at a much lower power level than they will be in the future. Sue in particular is very limited, as there is nothing she can do at this point to even be of use against the Hulk. Reading these early issues, where Sue is mostly useless, it is hard to remember that today she is, by far, the most powerful member of the FF.

Outside of the brawl between the FF and the Hulk, this issue doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. The story is kind of weak, and has some bizarre touches, like the military not knowing that the Thing isn’t the Hulk, and General Ross’s collection of bound phone books. However, there are a few nice touches. The continuation of the relationship between Ben and Alicia is particularly nice. Ben shows he is willing to do something he doesn’t necessarily enjoy himself for the benefit of his girlfriend, as ben prefers jazz to classical music, which is a nice little character touch.

The Wrecker is not a good villain and his identity is never really a mystery, even without the benefit of the fact he carries an ID card proclaiming himself to be a Communist spy in his wallet. However, the Wrecker isn’t meant to be a great character, just an excuse for the FF to come into conflict with the Hulk, and in that capacity, he succeeds just fine.

Having the FF do battle with the hulk in this issue was a great move, especially at this time. The book was on the verge of getting into a rut, with the FF seemingly coming into conflict with Dr. Doom and/or Namor in almost half of the issues so far. Not only do they have a new opponent in this issue, the opponent is another Marvel hero instead of a new villain.

All in all, while it isn’t the best issue of the Fantastic four so far, it has enough going for it that it was a fun read and another brick in the foundation that future FF stories will be built on.

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.