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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.

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 #11   2 comments

Fantastic Four #11

Script: Stan Lee

Art: Jack Kirby

Inking: Dick Ayers

Lettering: Art Simek

SYNOPSIS:

The cover of this issue promises to reveal more secrets about the origin of the Fantastic Four. This was a subject of many of the letters the marvel editorial staff received, so Lee and Kirby were sure to include a special segment in this issue, “A Visit With the Fantastic Four.” The story opens with the FF approaching a newsstand, where a line is flowing out the door of people waiting anxiously to get their hand on the new copy of the Fantastic Four comic book.

The FF meet a group of kids who are play acting that they are the Fantastic Four. the real FF give a short demonstration of their powers, making the kids day, before going back to their Baxter Building headquarters. There they meet up with Willy Lumpkin, the old mail-carrier who will be a recurring bit character in the FF for decades.

The FF read the letters of the adoring fans as Ben discovers a package addressed to him. Opening the box, Ben is hit in the face with a boxing glove on a spring. He flies into a rage, blaming the Yancy Street Gang, who are always trying to get a rise out of him. This is another concept that will be brought up over and over again in the coming years: the Yancy Street Gang playing practical jokes on Ben. It’s a fun concept that a lot of different writers will use over the years, most recently mark Waid who had a great, unexpected twist on it (which i won’t spoil here.)

To calm down the Thing, Reed produces yet another serum he hopes will cure Ben of his monstrous form. Reed pours the serum on Ben, who reverts back to normal. The problem doesn’t seem to be changing Ben back to human, the difficult part seems to be making the change last. This particular cure will turn out to be no exception. Not wanting to see Ben get upset when he reverts to Thing form, Johnny takes off.

To pass the time during the cure’s duration, Reed and Ben tell stories of how they met and their time together as college students. It turns out that Reed and Ben were college roommates who, although they were polar opposites with nothing in common, became the very best of friends. Reed cheered louder than anyone at Ben’s football games, and ben beamed with pride as his best friend won science awards. After graduation, both men were in the military, each serving his country with honor.

Reed also brings up that he and Sue were neighbors when they were younger and how he has loved her for years. Sue doesn’t want to talk about this, as she doesn’t know yet if she loves Reed or Namor, the Sub-Mariner. We then get a recounting of the FF’s origin shown in issue 1, and then Sue gets upset because some readers wrote in and claimed she doesn’t do enough and should be kicked off the team. Reed jumps to her defense, telling a story about how Abe Lincoln did everything he did because of his mother, and Sue plays a similar role with the FF, encouraging them and propelling them to success. They also recount how Sue helped them fight off the Skrulls and saved the other three members when they were trapped by Dr. Doom. Ben gets enraged at the letters and once again reverts to his Thing form.

Sue tells ben she should stop wallowing in self-pity and should instead be trying to comfort him, as he is one of the most wonderful people she knows. The alarm goes off, signaling trouble in the flying saucer they kept after their adventure on Planet X. The three enter, only to find Johnny with a birthday cake for Sue. It turns out the three men of the FF have been planning this for days and they celebrate Sue’s birthday as Willy Lumpkin brings in another huge sack of letters.

From there we get to the main story, the introduction of the Impossible Man. Traveling from the planet Poppup in the 10th Dimension, Impossible Man arrives on Earth, where he meets a group of hobos. Impy is starving, but the hobos won’t give away food, he has to buy it. He doesn’t know what cash is, so they tell him to go to a bank and get some. Impy transforms into a rocket ship and blasts off. He finds a bank and changes into a tiny insect, crawling under the vault door. he then steals a bunch of cash, not realizing what he is doing is wrong, and is confronted by the police. They can’t stop him, as Impossible Man transforms into bullet proof steal.

At this point, the FF are called in. They investigate, finding IM at a restaurant, stuffing his face. he explains that his home planet is so dangerous, the population has learned to evolve instantly to survive, so in effect, he can transform into anything he wants with a thought. The Thing naturally loses his tempter and attacks the alien but Impy turns into a thorn covered plant and Thing gets a bunch of thorns stuck in his hand. Johnny tries to attack him, but IM turns into a giant bag of water and douses his flame. no matter what they try, the Impossible Man has a solution. He leaves the restaurant, having had his meal, and his vacation, ruined by the FF.

When he leaves the restaurant, he realizes that human beings can’t change the way he can. He also comes to the conclusion that he is the most powerful being on the planet now. He can whatever he wants! What he wants to do first is drive a car, so he jumps in one and takes off, having a glorious time driving around. The FF find him and he gets mad at them for spoiling his good time. They once again try to stop him, but to no avail. The national guard shows up, but Impossible Man turns into a bomb and they all run away.

The FF try in vain to stop him again, but the Impossible Man has the time of his life fighting them. he hasn’t had this much fun in ages. In fact, he is going to recommend Earth to the tourist division of Poppop! At this point, reed has one of his more brilliant ideas: he just ignores the Impossible Man and shows no interest in anything he does. He instructs everyone else to do the same, and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE. The entire planet Earth just ignores the Impossible Man, no matter what he does. With his wacky hijinks getting no response from anyone, IM soon grows bored and leaves the Earth, vowing never to return and to tell the rest of his planet to also stay away from the boring Earth.

The FF have saved the day by ignoring their opponent. This was such a great solution, I wonder why it hasn’t been tried on anyone else? I would love to see an issue of the Fantastic Four where Dr. Doom proclaims he is going to take over the world and Reed responds with “Go ahead. Who cares?” It would probably be the greatest issue ever of The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!

COMMENTS:

This issue is a big step in building the relationship between Marvel Comics and its readers. That was part of the appeal of Marvel comics when they first hit the scene. All other comic companies just presented their stories. Marvel Comics attempted to create an atmosphere of fan interaction and even fan participation. Stan Lee always tried to get across the concept that the Marvel creative teams weren’t just these names that produced the issues, they were real people with distinct personalities. They weren’t presented as stuffy professionals just doing a job for a pay check. Lee always tried to make the marvel writers and artists seem like fun-loving people who were trying to make the fans happy. These were almost like your pals, writing and drawing comics just for you.

Marvel always encouraged fans to write in to the comics and made it a point to have jovial, familiar responses to fan letters. this particular issue not only shows a fan on the first page who is thrilled that his letter made the fan page of the FF comic, but it was advertised that the fan letters and post cards actually caused the first part of this comic to be written. The message here is clear: you write and we will listen. Marvel was the comic company for the fans and to an extent, by the fans. This inclusive attitude and embracing of fandom did as much to propel Marvel to the top of the industry as Stan Lee’s more believable, flawed heroes did.

This issue also does a great job of more fully integrating Ben as part of the FF “Family.” Sue and Johnny are siblings, and Reed is Sue’s boyfriend, at least when Namor isn’t around. The three have a strong bond with each other. But before now, Ben was just written as the pilot they hired to fly Reed’s space ship who stays around because he turned into a freak with them. With this issue, he is given a much stronger emotional connection to the other three as it is revealed he and Reed were college roommates and have been best friends for years. Even Sue and Johnny knew him for a long time, as Johnny remarks how he used to cheer for Ben on the football field. Portraying Ben as a close friend of Reed’s for years was a very small detail that made a huge difference in the relationship between the four. They are now not three people with a bond and some guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, the Fantastic Four are truly a quartet and a family.

The main things that happen in this issue are all in the beginning tale. The main feature is a silly story of the Impossible Man. The story is pure wackiness, but it works because we are warned in advance the story is meant to be silly. As a short story that only takes up a few pages, it was a fun chance of pace with a creative ending. It is also a nice breather before next issue, with is the first ever encounter between the Fantastic Four and one of their all-time great adversaries: The Hulk!

Fantastic Four #10   Leave a comment

Fantastic Four #10

Script: Stan Lee

Pencilling: Jack Kirby

Inking: Dick Ayers

SYNOPSIS:

The story opens with a classic Fantastic Four scene: Reed Richards performing an experiment. This time he is trying to use a fancy X-ray camera to take a picture of Sue while she is invisible. In the early days of the FF, Reed was always performing experiments on his teammates, trying to get a better understanding of their powers and how they work. Johnny is there taking notes, but he “forgot” he was flamed on and the heat he is generating is making Sue uncomfortable. I know Johnny is portrayed as bit of an airhead in these early issues, but not realizing you are on fire is a bit of a stretch. Reed is able to get a faint outline of Sue with his special camera when they notice the FF emergency flare, which must have been fired by The Thing, as Ben is the only one not there.

The FF try to spring into action, but they can’t because the door is locked. Seriously. There is some nuclear powered lock on the door and it is jammed. Johnny tries to burn his way out, but Reed warns him that the nuclear lock is very sensitive to heat and they will be blown up. He then tries to stretch his arm under the door and pilot the Fantasticar to the window, but Reed, the smartest man on the planet, can’t figure out where the hangar for the Fantasticar is, ending up in the Pogo Plane hangar instead. Meanwhile, Johnny makes a discovery: he can burn his fire so hot that it doesn’t give off heat. I don’t understand that either. It’s also nice how Johnny decided to test this theory about his power on the super heat sensitive nuclear powered lock that could have killed them all.

Having finally escaped the dreaded locked room, the FF take to the streets, where they are harassed by everybody they meet. The FF use their powers to get past the throng of fans that are pawing at them as they try to rush to the Thing. They arrive at the apartment of Alicia, who is Ben’s blind girlfriend and the step-daughter of the Puppet Master. The team bursts in expecting an emergency, but instead find out that ben just wants to show them what Alicia has done. It turns out that even though Alicia is blind, she can make amazingly accurate sculptures. She has made small statues of all of the villains that FF have faced up to this point: The Mole Man, the Skrulls, Dr. Doom, the Miracle Man, Korrgo, and Namor. She seems to have forgotten her own step-father was also one of the villains the FF faced.

The team marvels at the detail and skill Alicia has shown, although Sue wonders why Namor was included in the gallery of evil, as he is not bad like the others. Reed takes this moment to finally confront Sue on her feelings for Sub-Mariner, and Sue refuses to talk about it, saying she doesn’t know how she feels.

At this point, the story is interrupted, as it is as far as Stan and Jack were able to get before they had a strange visitor at the Marvel offices: Dr Doom himself! Doom has returned to Earth after being shot into space on a runaway meteor. Doom doesn’t have time to tell the creative team how he survived, let alone returned to Earth. he has much more important things to do, and he needs Lee and Kirby to help him. They have to call the Fantastic Four and say exactly what he says, or he will kill them!

Stan Lee does as he is told, calling the FF and asking Reed to come to their office to discuss a plot. Reed thinks it’s odd, since he just agreed on a story with them yesterday. Ben complains about how ugly they make him look and Reed asks why Ben is in such a bad mood all the time. Uh, Reed? Maybe because you didn’t listen to him about the dangers of cosmic ray exposure and turned him into a deformed, stone skinned, hideous freak for the rest of his life? For somebody who is supposed to be so intelligent, Reed is pretty stupid at times.

Mr. Fantastic takes the bait and shows up at the Marvel offices, where he is knocked out with a sleeping gas gun by Doom. Doom then instructs Lee and Kirby to call the rest of the FF, who will come to save their leader. He gives the writer and artist a card with his address on it and uses mystical means know only to him to vanish. I love the fact that when Doom got back from outer space, not only did he make a new plan to destroy his enemies, he got new business cards made up.

Doom arrives at his new home, where he commands Reed to awaken and tells him his story. Doom was rescued by a super-evolved race of aliens called the Ovoids, who took him in and shipped him back to Earth. However, before Doom went back to Earth, he learned much from the Ovoids, stealing some of their technology, as well as learning the secret of “body switching.” Doom uses this power now to switch bodies with Mr. Fantastic. Doom’s mind is now n Reed’s body and Reed’s is in Doom’s. Reed tries to stop Doom, but Doom uses his new stretchy powered body to make quick work of Reed in Doom’s body. It’s interesting to note that when Doom’s mind is in Reed’s body, he can dispose of Doom’s body with Reed’s mind in two panels, yet when Doom is in his own body, he can take on the entire Fantastic Four. Maybe Doom is just better at having an elastic body than Reed is.

At this point, the rest of the Fantastic Four storm the building, smashing through the door looking for their missing leader. The find Doom and Reed and start to beat up Doom, not knowing it’s really Reed. Doom, as Reed, is urging them on, while Reed tries to tell them that he isn’t actually Dr. Doom, but Reed Richards in Doom’s body. Naturally, the team thinks it is a desperate lie and don’t believe him. They then try to come up with a variety of ways to keep Doom trapped where he won’t do any harm to anybody ever again, like keeping him a flame cage or covering him with a huge boulder. No wonder Reed seems so smart all the time, he is surrounded by idiots. “Reed” then tells them to just keep Doom where he was going to keep them, in a giant glass cage with an oxygen supply. They dump Dooms body in there and take off, leaving fake Reed to taunt fake Doom, telling him he has enough air for an hour and then will die.

Back at the Baxter Building, Doom has settled into his role as Reed Richards. The rest of the FF are hanging around when a collection of tiny animals comes racing out of Reed’s lab. Miniature bears, horses, elephants and others are running around the room as the FF scamper around trying to gather them up. Reed/Doom arrives back and sees the team collecting his tiny animals, which he shrunk with a reducing ray. He tells the team he is going to use the reducing ray to increase their powers. I know what you are thinking: how can a reducing ray make somebody more powerful? It just so happens that Reed/Doom has an answer, and its a doozy!

His theory is that the dinosaurs once ruled the Earth, but their bodies grew huge while their brains stayed the same size. If the dinosaurs were smaller, they would probably rule the Earth to this day. He then says he will shrink the FF members down to tiny sizes, but their powers will remain the same. Then, when he grows them back to their normal sizes, their powers will increase to enhanced levels. If you are thinking this is ridiculous, you are correct. You are also much smarter than the other members of the Fantastic Four, who proceed to brawl with each other hoping to be the first to get the ray used on them. Doom says he will use the ray on all of them, but he needs time to perfect it. The other members leave and Doom reveals his real plan: he will shrink them, but he will keep on shrinking them until they vanish forever. He also says he knows that his explanation was ludicrous, but only Reed Richards was smart enough to realize it. In this issue, the FF are portrayed as being really scatter-brained.

Meanwhile, Reed is trapped not only in a giant glass bowl, he is also trapped in doom’s body. He tries to smash his way out, but it is no use. he then uses the two oxygen tanks to make an explosion, freeing himself. He makes his way to Alicia’s apartment, hoping to convince her of what has happened. However, Alicia is not alone, as an invisible Sue smashes Doom/Reed over the head with a vase and knocks him out. Doom is a very dangerous man, until you put Reed’s body in him. Then he can get manhandled by anybody who crosses his path. Alicia thinks something is wrong, as she senses nobility in Doom’s body. At that moment, Thing and the Torch show up, and Ben is about to kick the Hell out of Doom, but his instinct stops him. He knows something is wrong, but not what. They toss Doom’s body in the Fantasticar and head back to the Baxter Building.

At the Baxter Building, the truth comes out. The Thing and the Human Torch get the feeling that Reed isn’t talking like Reed, and Johnny comes up with a wacky plan. There are some construction workers excavating a building foundation nearby. Johnny super heats up the air around the dynamite, creating a mirage and making it appear as if the dynamite is in the room. Why this didn’t make the actual dynamite explode and kill the workers is not explained. Seeing the dynamite, Reed, in Doom’s body, leaps on top of the dynamite to save his teammates. Doom, in Reed’s body, tries to slither up a vent to escape and save himself. Thing grabs a hold of him and drags him back into the room. The shock of being discovered snaps Doom’s mental concentration and he and Reed switch back to their original bodies.

Surrounded by the FF, Dr. Doom tries to fight his way out of the situation. He fires a blast from his armor at Reed, but Mr. Fantastic dodges it. the blast hits the reducing ray and triggers it, bathing Doom in the beam. He then shrinks down to nothingness and vanishes as the FF realize how smart Reed is.

COMMENTS:

The cover of this issue is of particular interest. Not only does it show the intriguing prospect of Dr. Doom as a member of the Fantastic Four with Reed Richards being evil, it also shows a rear view of the creators of the FF themselves, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The issue promises that Stan and Jack would be in the actual issue.

I really like that the love triangle between Reed, Sue and Namor is mentioned in this issue. When the book first started, Reed and Sue were engaged and in love. Early on, Sue became enthralled with Prince Namor and Reed didn’t seem to mind. In this issue, Lee and Kirby seem to remember that Reed and sue are supposed to be an item and have Reed finally call Sue out on her blatant lusting after another man.

I also enjoy the relationship between Ben and Alicia. Before Alicia was introduced, ben was just angry and bitter all the time, flying off the handle at the smallest provocation. After Alicia shows up, Ben begins to show the inner sensitivity and soul beneath his gruff exterior he is now known for. Alicia, being blind, can’t see how hideous Ben has become and it allows him to be himself around her. Around everyone else, he always seems self-conscious and defensive. but with Alicia, he can just be himself. Alicia isn’t bothered at all by Ben’s appearance. she only cares about what kind of man he is on the inside. There is also the interesting factor that while Ben desperately wants to look human again, Alicia actually prefers him as the Thing. They have a great relationship, one of my favorites in comics.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby appearing in the issue is a classic Marvel move. This issue establishes the concept that the Marvel characters exist in our world and the comic book that the reader is holding in their hands is based on the heroes actual exploits.  It’s an idea that will be referenced from time to time in the Marvel Universe to this day.

There are some nice little touches in this comic. The Reed/Sue/Namor stuff is nice and the Ben/Alicia relationship is always great. The introduction of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby into the Marvel U is a lot of fun. However, the plot itself for this issue is pretty weak. The science logic is bizarre and the FF are written as being power hungry idiots for most of the issue. The main thing about the plot that is good is that Dr Doom has returned to Earth, even if he was shrunken down to nothingness at the end.

We all know that won’t last long.

Fantastic Four #9   Leave a comment

Fantastic Four #9

This is the first issue of Fantastic Four with actual credits, which is refreshing. I think everybody who works on a book should get credit for their contributions. The credits aren’t as extensive as they are these days, but it’s a nice start:

Script: Stan Lee

Art: Jack kirby

Inking: Dick Ayers

Lettering: Art Simek

SYNOPSIS:

We begin our story this issue with a very bizarre scene: Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is in his deserted hidden undersea kingdom watching television. Yes, Atlantis was destroyed by atomic testing, all of his subjects vanished to save their lives, but for some reason, he still manages to get reception on his underwater television set. I guess even Namor can’t spend all of his time talking to fish and staring longingly at his framed photograph of Susan storm.

Namor sees on the news that the Fantastic Four are bankrupt and will be splitting up and selling all of their possessions to pay their debts. It turns out, this is just the type of opportunity Namor has been waiting for.

We then see the FF in their home at the Baxter Building, where they are being harassed by a bunch of creditors and various people they owe money to. It turns out Reed made a fortune by selling the patents to his amazing inventions, but he then invested it in the stock market and the market cashed, wiping them out. So while Reed is the smartest person on the planet, if not the universe, even he can’t understand stocks and investment. The Thing berates him for being a big shot and wasting their fortune, and Reed warns him not to push it, or else Reed will reach his breaking point. The other members of the FF try to think of ways to earn money, but Reed tells them the only way is to disband and sell their inventions and property to make money. I get why selling the Pogo Plane and the Baxter Building would get them a bunch of money so they could pay their bills, but I have no idea why they would also have to disband. I think Stan Lee just liked the idea that the FF were constantly on the verge of breaking up.

Ben throws his usual temper tantrum and storms out, deciding he is better off without them anyway. He tries to hail a cab, but the cab driver says he knows the FF don’t have a penny to their name, and he isn’t going to get stuck with the taxi fair when The Thing doesn’t pay his bill. Ben gets mad and picks the cab up, twirling it overhead and terrorizing the driver. He then impales the cab on a big clock on a pole, destroying it. If the driver didn’t think Ben had the money for a trip downtown, I wonder how he thinks he’s going to get the money to ay for a new cab, plus lawyer fees, and whatever other damages Thing will have to pay for pain and suffering.

Not getting a ride from a cab, Thing fires the FF flare gun, summoning Johnny in a section of the Fantasticar. Ben is glad that the Fantasticar didn’t get sold yet, because he needs a ride. I am guessing Ben has never heard of the subway.

Later, Ben is in the apartment of Alicia, who we met last issue. it seems the two have struck up a friendship. Alicia made a doll of a white night for Ben, because she knows he is noble and kind and would never desert his friends. Ben says that even though Alicia is blind, she sees things much better than he does, and he feels ashamed for how he acted. He returns to the FF just as the get a telegram asking them to star in a movie, for which they will be paid a million dollars. This money would allow them to pay off their bills and get a fresh start, so they agree to go to Hollywood to do it. They have no transportation anymore (I’m assuming the Fantasticar was sold in the last 20 minutes) and traveling cross-country is expensive, so they do what any band of super-heroes in 1962 would do: they take to the highway and stick out their thumbs!

The FF arrive in Hollywood at the newly form “SM Studios,” (Get it?) and mingle with some Hollywood stars. Jackie Gleason shows them they way to the main office, where they discover the big shot producer who hired them is none other than Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner! It turns out that Namor has access to all the wealth of the sea, such as buried treasure, sunken ships, etc. He is LOADED! In his boredom, he decided to form a movie studio and make a movie about the Fantastic Four. Sue is taken in by his confidence, reminding readers the two have a strong attraction to each other.

Namor gives the FF partial payment for their starring roles, and the money seems genuine. Johnny immediately rushes out and buys a fancy sports car. Apparently, Johnny has learned nothing about fiscal responsibility. Mere hours before, the FF was bankrupt and ready to disband. They finally get some cash and instead of getting their operation up and running, Johnny buys a fancy ride and goes out to pick up chicks in Hollywood. Typical Johnny attitude! Torch gets a bunch of girls to go riding with him, but he won’t tell them his name or who he is. This doesn’t stop the girls from getting in the car with him. The world was a very different place in 1962. They cruise around a while, but when they see the road ahead is unpaved, Johnny Storm does his typical showboating and shoots fireballs out in front of him, paving the road himself! The girls realize he is The Human Torch and that makes him even better than the movie star they thought he was! This is another step towards the FF being portrayed as huge super-stars n the world.

Ben goes to the beach, but the other people having fun annoys him, so he gathers them all up in his arms and tosses them into the ocean. Meanwhile, Sue dines with Namor, who avoids the question of why he is being so helpful to the FF. Sue, being her usual inquisitive self, doesn’t press the issue, and just finishes her meal while making pupy eyes at the Prince of Atlantis.

The next day, the FF set sail on a boat for “Hidden Isle,” which really should have changed its name once Namor found out. Subby tells Reed that he is going to go battle a mechanical Cyclops on the island and Namor will film it from the boat with a telescopic lens. Reed stretches over to the island to discover the Cyclops isn’t mechanical at all, but a real Cyclops! A really cool fight scene occurs at this point, as Reed uses his elastic body to combat the towering giant. Cyclops smashes Reed with a boulder, but all it does is flatten Mr. Fantastic, doing no real damage. Reed then position himself between two tall rocks, and Cyclops throws another boulder. Reed absorbs the giant rock with his stretchy body and slingshots it back at the Cyclops. Enraged, the giant charges at Reed, but Mr. Fantastic again uses his stretchy body to trip up the giant, sending him falling down into a huge pit.

Next up is Johnny’s turn. Namor drops him on an island, where he is instructed to do battle with a group of natives. What Johnny doesn’t know is that the people of this particular island have a magic potion that makes them immune to fire! Namor, instead of using this knowledge to help the world combat the threat of fires, decided to keep it a secret in case he ever needed to hatch an elaborate ruse to kill the Human Torch.

Johnny flames on, but the natives are not afraid of his fire. With nothing else to do, Johnny just flies around until his flame dies out, and which point he is taken captive. While he is a gigantic cage, the natives mix up a new batch of magic potion and then show off their fire resistant skills, walking through flames and swallowing fire. I guess just being unharmed by The Human Torch’s flame wasn’t proof enough. Having witnessed this spectacle, Johnny has passed enough time to recharge his flame and has some tricks of his own to show off.

Johnny flames back on, destroying the bamboo cage he was held in. He then makes a bunch of flame duplicates of himself, and the natives can’t figure out which one is the real Torch (hint: it’s the one that’s talking.) Johnny can’t combat them directly, so instead he flies into a smoldering volcano, making it erupt and flood the island with molten lava. If you can’t battle a group of people the next best thing to do is destroy their entire civilization and the secret of their flame resistant magic potion. Great decision, Johnny!

Its now time for The Thing’s big scene, which is a fight on the beach with Namor himself! Ben asks what makes Namor think he can win a fight with the Thing. Besides the fact that Namor kicked the crap out of the entire FF a few issues ago that is. For an answer, Namor punches Ben in the face, knocking him for a loop. Namor pummels Ben over and over again, beating him senseless. Ben wonders why Namor never gets tired from handing out the ass-kicking of a lifetime, before realizing the water keeps Namor strong. Ben isn’t the quickest thinker around and it takes him a few panels of getting beaten half to death to figure out that the Prince of Atlantis likes the water.

Ben drags Namor away from the surf and starts to get the upper hand. Weakened by the lack of water, Namor starts to lose as thing belts him with a huge right cross. Just then, in a bizarre twist of fate, The Thing is hit by a huge bolt of lightning! The Thing, not killed by the bolt, is instead transformed back into his human form! Now a normal human, he is easily knocked unconscious by a weakened Namor, who leaves his foe on the beach as he staggers off to find water and recharge his strength.

Namor goes back to his movie studio and meets Sue, who has been sitting around waiting for the others to return. Namor informs her that he has triumphed over them all! He then unveils his master plan: Namor wanted to dispose of the rest of the FF so that Sue would be free to marry him! Susan tells Namor if he was just honest about his feelings and didn’t go through this huge charade, she might have said yes, but she will fight Namor for what he did to the rest of the Fantastic Four. Some women just don’t appreciate romantic gestures!

Namor uses “all of the powers of the creatures of the sea” to combat Sue, charging the air with electricity and using a deep sea radar sense to locate her invisible form. Just as he captures her and says he likes a woman who fights back (the creepy rapist that he is), the rest of the FF burst into the room, arguing with each other in true Fantastic Fur fashion over over who gets to hit Namor first.

Just as the guys are about to pummel Namor, Sue jumps in front of him, stopping them. She says what he did, he did for love. Plus, it is three against one and they have never ganged up anyone before. Except, or course, in every single issue of the Fantastic Four so far when the FF ganged up on the villain in that issue. Sue is always confused about things when Namor is around.

Namor promises to live up to his end of the bargain. He will finish the movie and they will get paid. Namor wanders off into the ocean, heartbroken, as the FF celebrate that they are stars of a huge hit movie and now have the money to continue their wacky adventures!

COMMENTS:

We get another page in this issue of Johnny explaining his powers to us. He says he can fly because the intense heat that surrounds his body when he flames on makes his molecules lighter than air. He also says water is his biggest enemy and he studies weather patterns to make sure he doesn’t fly into a rain storm. He practices constantly, running obstacle courses and trying to be as observant as possible, so he can help the FF with missions from his aerial vantage point. He also says he can reach speeds so fast that he can create a sonic boom, so he is careful not to fly that fast over populated areas. Johnny also explains that his flame can only burn for a limited amount of time and the hotter he burns and faster he flies, the sooner it burns out.

In the early days of the FF, Johnny was clearly the most most powerful member of the team. His flame was always able to stop Ben in their usual brawls and it was usually the most feared weapon by their opponents. marvel got a lot of fan mail supporting the Torch as a favorite character and he is clearly being made out to be the star of the book. As time went on, the focus would shift more toward The Thing, but for the first year or so, The Human Torch seemed to be the most prominent member of the Fantastic Four.

This is a very interesting story, with the plot point of the FF being bankrupt being particularly great. Having a big, high-tech secret headquarters and fantastic inventions and vehicles costs a fortune, and beating up the Mole Man doesn’t exactly earn you top dollar. It’s stories like this one that made the Fantastic Four so much more realistic than the competition’s super hero books. The Justice League of America never got notices from the electric company they were behind on their bill. But the FF not only had money problems, they had creditors beating down their door and chasing them into the streets!

The relationship between Namor and Sue is also a terrific touch. Namor truly does love Sue and she has strong feelings for him, too. In fact,  her feelings are so strong for him that she would have considered being his bride if he hadn’t beat up her friends to try to win her hand in marriage. This is a woman who is supposedly engaged to Reed Richards, yet she never shows the type of passion and longing for Reed that she does for Namor, at least in these early issues.

Namor is the perfect example of a Marvel style villain. He isn’t really evil just for the sake of being evil, like other comic book villains up to that point. He really isn’t evil at all. He just lives by different moral standards than humanity. He wasn’t trying to take over the world, he was just trying to marry the woman he loves. He doesn’t have real animosity towards the FF, he just sees them as obstacles in the way of getting what he wants and so he feels he has to eliminate them to win Sue. If his crazy plan had worked, he wouldn’t have gone on to conquer the world, he would have just lived happily ever after with Susan, probably spending his vast wealth on whatever she wanted.

This type of complexity and depth of character was something very new in comics. before the Fantastic Four came along, villains were evil basically because the writer needed them to be. But what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did was create more believable characters, with real motivations and emotions and complex thoughts. No matter that Namor has wondrous super-powers, he is still a far more human character than wat we have seen in the past.

The solicitation for the next issue mentions the Fantastic Four’s “incredible exploits and won-to-earth realism,” and that is a great description. Yes, the FF and their foes have amazing powers and incredible adventures, but it is al grounded in a realistic world that is far more similar to our own than comics had ever seen before.

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.

Fantastic Four #7   Leave a comment

Fantastic Four #7

Credits listed as “By Stan Lee and J. Kirby”

SYNOPSIS:

The issue opens on a bizarre looking alien with a gigantic head. This is pure Kirby, plain and simple. The guy had some out there designs and Kurrgo from Planet X is certainly one of them. Kurrgo informs us that he has been watching the Earth for weeks and has learned of the Fantastic Four. He proclaims how superior he is to earthlings in every way. He then laments the fact that is vastly superior planet is going to be destroyed by a giant meteor, and he needs the FF to save him. He WOULD just put all of his people on space ships and evacuate the planet, but his people never really cared for space travel, and as a result, have only two space ships on the planet. I guess his super advanced race of people couldn’t build more in the time it takes them to travel light years to Earth, capture the FF, bring them back to Planet X, and hope tat they can save the day.

Back on Earth, the FF have been invited to a dinner in their honor being held by the US Congress. Johnny doesn’t want to go because he is afraid he will be asked to make a speech, get nervous, and burst into flames. Ben doesn’t want to go because he knows he will lose his temper and trash Congress in a fit of rage. Sue doesn’t want to go because she will be too embarrassed to meet important people. Reed tells them they are all being silly babies and to quit their whining and go get dressed. After all, he is doing an important rocket fuel experiment that he has to abandon to go, and he isn’t complaining, even though he is the only one with a valid excuse.

Johnny leaves to get ready and hits the showers. Ben sneaks up and turns the water all the way to it’s hottest setting. johnny gets scared and flames on, turning all of the water to steam and causing the Baxter Building to be enveloped by fog.

The Fantastic Four jump into the Fantasticar and head to Washington. Sue had complained she had nothing to wear to a fancy dinner and I guess she was right, as the FF are going to this high class dinner dressed in their FF uniforms. On the way, they see a space ship entering Earth’s atmosphere, but mistake it for a secret test flight by the Americans. The ship arrives on Earth and a robot gets out, using a high tech scanner to search for the Four. The FF all get a weird feeling they are being watched, but the amazing coincidence of all of them becoming paranoid at the exact same time doesn’t faze them and they go on to Washington anyway.

At the dinner, the FF are treated like heroes and presented with a trophy as a token of appreciation for their hard work defending the country from evil. At this same time, the robot that Kurrgo sent to capture them blankets the city of Washington DC with a “hostility ray,” making everybody in the city hostile and angry, getting into fights with little or no provocation. It basically makes everybody act like The Thing. This doesn’t seem like the wisest course of action to me. How would making an entire city an unruly mob make it easier to kidnap the FF? And why kidnap them at all? If Kurrgo had been monitoring them for weeks, as he claimed, didn’t he realize they are heroic do-gooders? If he had just asked Reed to help with Planet X’s problem, I’m sure Reed and the rest of the FF would have not hesitated for a split second to help save the planet.

The Congressmen in attendance flip out and everyone attacks the FF, yelling that they are a menace and should be driven out of the country. The army quickly shows up, as in the 1960s Marvel U an army brigade is never more than a block away from any situation, and the FF use their powers to make their escape. As they fly away in the Fantasticar, the space ship from Planet X follows them. Reed tries to do some fancy flying to shake it, but the ship can’t be lost and it follows them back to the Baxter Building. Once they arrive on the roof, the giant robot comes out and says he has come to find them and give them a message from kurrgo, Master of Planet X. Hopefully, Kurrgos message is better than his plan so far.

The robot explains that no place on Earth is safe for the FF and that they will eventually be captured. He then tells how each of them could be detained despite their amazing powers. He offers them asylum on Planet X, in exchange for one favor that will be asked of them when they arrive. Reed agrees, despite protests from The Thing, who knows it is a trap. Reed says he has to go because of the curiosity facto of why they are needed on Planet X. So basically, all of the trickery and mob inducing wasn’t needed. Reed would have gone just to find out why he needed o be there. Looks like Kurrgo and his advanced race of aliens went through WAY more trouble than necessary. The Ff would have gone just if they were asked.

the FF arrive on Planet X and Kurrgo gives them the update on the problem. The planet is in disarray because a runaway planet is heading straight for them. Tides are rising higher and higher, volcanoes are erupting everywhere and the citizens are rioting in the street. Kurrgo informs them that if the FF doesn’t solve the problem, they will perish along with everyone else. Thing throws his usual tantrum and attacks the robot that brought them there, but to no avail. Johnny gets mad and goes to attack the robot, getting hotter than he ever has, as hot as a star! I guess he has amazing control over this ridiculous level of heat, as nobody standing inches away from him is at all effected by it. Sue jumps in front of the robot an Johnny deflames so he won’t hurt his sister. Kurrgo yells at them for fighting amongst themselves when they should be working on a solution. He obviously didn’t learn anything for all those weeks he was watching them.

The planet looms closer and a shock wave rattles the room. Reed says he has to think of something to save them. Kurrgo says he doesn’t care for the useless lives of the FF. It is always  good idea to call the only people in the universe who can save you “useless” minutes before your world is about to be destroyed. he also says he doesn’t care about his 5 billion subjects, he only wants them to be saved so he can continue to be their master. Nice guy, this Kurrgo. Reed has Kurrgo take him to a lab so he can whip up something.

And whip up something he does! We are treated to the first in what will be a LONG running series of Fantastic four splash pages, the “Reed makes an invention with the help of the FF” page. All of these pages are very similar: Reed is working on a delicate piece of equipment, while Johnny uses his flame powers to weld something and Ben carries some huge piece of equipment. Sue usually has little to o in these pages. here she is shown carrying some cables over to the boys. Reed coming up with some wacky invention to save the day is a staple of the FF to this day. The wacky invention in this particular instance is a giant cannon that shoots “reducing gas,” which Reed demonstrates by shrinking down some of Kurrgo’s subjects to 1/1000th of their size. The nice part about being on Planet X is that you can skip all of the clinical trials and go right to human test subjects.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Reed is going to shoot the reducing gas at the runaway planet so it gets really tiny and harmlessly lands on Planet X, doing no real damage, right? If you thought that, you obviously don’t know about the zaniness that is Stan lee and Jack Kirby! No, that solution is far too easy for The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine! What Reed does instead is to shoot the reducing gas all over Planet X, covering the entire surface of the world, so that all 5 billion people on it will shrink down and they will now all fit on one space ship! They can then make their escape and find a new world to live on. When they get to the new world, they can exit the ship, open a canister of “enlarging gas” and then regain their normal size and live in peace on this new world.

Kurrgo, power mad tyrant that he is, decides he isn’t going to return his subjects to their normal height. Instead, he is going to just grow himself, then keep the enlarging gas hidden so his subjects will be like insects to him! Why he needs them to be insects, since they seem perfectly fine to be in his control as normal sized aliens, is anybody’s guess.

The 5 billion Planet Xers shrink down and get into a space ship to make their escape. If you wondering how they got so organized that 5 billion people from an entire planet could get shrunken down to the size of an insect and get onto a ship in an orderly fashion instead of running amok when they were suddenly shrunk down unexpectedly, you are thinking way too much about this story. Kurrgo, the rat bastard, can’t put the enlarging gas capsule down and run fast enough and he is left behind as the space ship takes off. It’s a good thing that Planet X had TWO space ships, because the FF use the second one to make their own escape. On the way home, the members of the quartet ask Reed if he is sure the enlarging gas would work, unaware that Kurrgo didn’t make it on the ship with the capsule. Reed informs them that there is no enlarging gas at all! he only pretended there was so the aliens would go along with his hair brained scheme. He figures once they get to their new home, they will all be the same size, so it doesn’t matter if that size is so tiny. It’s great how Reed is so casual about other people’s standard of living as they try to discover a new world to live on. Who cares if they have to float around space forever in the hopes they can find another world to live on? And what difference could it possibly make if once they arrive on that planet, they are one thousandth of their normal size? Reed said he would get them off Planet X alive and that’s what he did!

COMMENTS:

This issue is a little silly, even by 1962 standards of comics. The problem of the people of Planet X, with it’s highly advanced race, has to have a better solution that kidnapping the Fantastic Four. Also, the FF seem very petty and weak in their fear about going to see Congress. Johnny has been portrayed up t this point as a confidant, brash, fun-loving kid. There is no reason why he should be afraid to talk in public. Sue in particular seems very weak by saying she would be too embarrassed to meet important politicians and the like. This is a far cry from the Sue who exists today, who is one of the most strong, stable and confidant heroes in the world. It really shows how far she has come. In the early days, Sue was mostly a damsel in distress, needed to be saved by the rest of the team. Today, Sue is by far the strongest member of the Fantastic Four, not only in terms of power, but in her emotional maturity as well. She has become the heart and soul of the team, the one the others can depend on in all situations, as well as the most dangerous in terms of powers. But in these early appearance, she has none of the poise and grace she exhibits today.

Interesting note from the letters page in this issue: a reader wrote in to ask about the relationship among the members of the FF, if they were all related to each other in some way. The explanation given is that Johnny and Sue are brother and sister and Reed was a good friend of Sue’s. Ben was the pilot hired to fly their space ship. there is no mention of Ben being Reed’s best friend and college roommate at this point. I’m curious at what point that became part of continuity.

Just like issue #3, the main thing this issue provided was some more characteristics of FF stories that will become regular features of the book. It establishes Reed as the smartest scientist on Earth, if not the entire universe. It is the first time Johnny exhibits what will be later known as his “nova flame.” It is also the first time the FF travel to an alien world, something they seem to do on a weekly basis these days. It is also the first time the FF use their powers to make a Reed invention to save the day, which is how they end up solving a great many of their problems in the future.

The plot itself is pretty weak, even by 1962 standards of comic book story telling. The aliens of Planet X are very bizarre looking and it seems the way they went about solving their problem was very strange for such an advanced race. Reed’s nonchalance about their fate after he shrunk them down and rocketed them into outer space was also a little weird. However, the issue did have some fun moments, and introduced  few more classic FF concepts. The FF are not yet fully formed into the characters they are today, but as this issue wraps up, they are well on their way.