Welcome to Marvel Librarian. Having missed out on comics in my formative years, I’m reading Silver Age Marvel comics for the first time, and writing about their highs, lows, and general weirdness.
Obligatory “Mister Fantastic is the villain, isn’t he always?”
Anyway, yes, we’re getting meta in this story, many decades before Deadpool. Despite what they’re saying, it doesn’t really look like Doom is one of the Fantastic Four, given that he’s fighting the Thing. Then again, maybe fighting the Thing is just a normal part of being in the FF. I love the sneering, evil Reed here though.
Also, it’d be pretty funny if the “gorgeous pin-up of the Invisible Girl” were just a blank page.
Reed is taking Sue’s picture with “radioactive film” in order to study her power of invisibility. A signal flare goes up somewhere in the city, and the three (minus Ben) rush to action, but they’re stymied by the “nuclear lock mechanism.” The Fantastic Four: if Johnny’s asbestos doesn’t give you cancer, Reed’s obsession with radioactivity will.
Johnny’s first instinct is to set the nuclear lock on fire, but Reed thankfully stops him. Reed tries to stretch his hands to the Fantasti-car garage, but fails. Meanwhile, Johnny opens the lock by showing that he’s learned to make his flame burn without heat. One, how does that work? Two, did you have to try out this new trick on the nuclear device several feet away from you?
The Four are mobbed by fans as soon as they exit their tower. Sue demonstrates how to deal with a creep who tells women to smile. She isn’t the only one being harassed, though, as some woman tries to take part of Reed’s uniform as a memento.
It turns out the flare wasn’t an emergency after all. Ben just wanted to call everyone to Alicia’s apartment so that they could check out these cool sculptures she made of their worst enemies. That’s fine and all, but it seems like they could have some kind of non-emergency device for this sort of communication? Like a normal phone?
Nice backhanded compliment, Reed. Also, given the mystical properties of the Puppet Master’s puppets, I’m not sure it’s such a good idea for Alicia to be sculpting all sorts of figurines of baddies.
Sue comments on the Namor figure, and Reed decides it’s a great time to hash out this extremely awkward and private matter, right in front of Alicia, Ben, and Johnny.
We mercifully cut away from that cringe, and get into the meta portion of today’s offering. Kirby never draws his and Lee’s faces, instead showing them from the back or with their heads blocked. The conceit here is basically that Lee and Kirby exist in the same world as the Fantastic Four and other superheroes, and that they are drawing comic versions of actual people and events.
The two lament that they can’t use Doctor Doom as a villain since he was shot into space when, surprise, Doctor Doom appears at their doorway. They ask him how he escaped, and he says it’s a long story. Comics!
Remember ash trays? Anyway, it seems that they actually have Reed come in periodically to discuss the plots they will put in the Fantastic Four comics. Which means that Reed personally signs off on all depictions of him being a jerk.
Reed gets the phone call and prepares to go, while Ben complains about how ugly they draw him. When he arrives at what is presumably the Marvel offices, Doom immediately knocks him out and teleports him to his secret lair.
Because Doom can’t resist a good monologue, he then explains to Reed how he survived in space. He was picked up by an alien race called the Ovoids, who are appropriately shaped like eggs. The Ovoids are a trusting species, and Doom easily learns all of their secrets. They have become effectively immortal by learning how to transfer their minds into backup bodies whenever they become old and feeble.
Doom uses this last skill to switch bodies with Reed. I believe this issue is the first time we hear Doom lament the fact that his face is disfigured and must be hidden behind his mask, which provides an extra incentive for him to wish to change bodies, apart from all of the “betray the Fantastic Four from the inside” stuff you would expect.
Doom gloats over the fact that he now has Reed’s stretching abilities on top of his black magic and scientific knowledge. So… Reed-in-Doom seemingly has no weapons to fight back with, which means that Doom would have had to disarm himself before switching bodies. All that time Reed was just sitting around in an easy chair listening to Doom monologue and he could have stopped all this – but to be fair, he probably wasn’t expecting the ol’ Freaky Friday.
The rest of the Four show up to rescue Reed, and Doom is clearly having the time of his life. Between Doom’s earlier lamentations about his disfigured face and his glee at watching Ben beat Doom’s body to a pulp, he’s clearly working out a lot of self-hatred issues.
Reed tries to explain what happened and plead with the Four to trust him, but Sue’s the only one who wonders why Doom would bother with such an outlandish story.
We get lots of Evil Reed faces in this story, as opposed to our usual Not Really Evil but Totally Dismissive of His Teammates’ Feelings Reed faces.
Meanwhile, Ben and Johnny fantasize about what they’d like to do to Doom: trap him on a deserted island in an eternally flaming cage, or drop him in a deep hole and cover it with an enormous boulder.
No one here questions how “Reed” knows exactly what Doom was going to do to them and how to operate it. You’d think the actual Reed might point that out.
So Reed-in-Doom is imprisoned in a cage of unbreakable glass. Doom-in-Reed tells the rest of the Four that he has plenty of air so they’ll have time to figure out what to do with him, but then he secretly tells his arch-nemesis that actually, there’s only three canisters of oxygen and he will die soon.
For some inexplicable reason, the three canisters of oxygen are actually inside of the cage. I bet you can see where this is going.
I like to picture Doom-in-Reed just kind of skipping away joyfully here.
Doom has successfully defeated his greatest enemy, stolen a new body with superpowers, and infiltrated the Fantastic Four. His first move?
…making a lot of tiny animals, apparently…?
Obscure reference of the day: The card game Netrunner had a card with a Teacup Giraffe and the caption “everyone wanted one” and yes, I do want one. This tiny moose would also do.
Reed-in-Doom’s body explains that the tiny animals are the result of his experimenting with a shrinking ray. You might recall that the actual Reed already had invented shrinking gas a few issues back, but the rest of the Four apparently don’t.
Doom is gloating awfully hard over Sue’s reasonable question.
Reed-in-Doom says that his plan is to increase the Four’s powers by shrinking them down. The “logic” goes that they’ll concentrate their powers into smaller bodies and then retain that additional potency upon returning to their normal sizes, I guess?
The example he gives is that dinosaurs were large creatures with small brains. If their bodies were smaller, he argues, then they’d be relatively… smarter? Brains really do not work that way. We do get this great illustration of spacefaring dinosaurs straight out of Calvin and Hobbes.
What’s wrong with your faaaaaace
Anyway, Doom’s actual plan is to get them to voluntarily submit to the shrinking ray, which will actually never stop shrinking them until they’re microscopic.
Meanwhile, Reed-in-Doom escapes from his cage by exploding the oxygen tanks that are inexplicably contained within the cage, instead of pumping in the air some other way. Realizing that the other three are in danger, instead of heading to the headquarters, he decides to go to Alicia’s apartment and convince her of his story, which isn’t a bad idea, really. Unfortunately for him, Sue stops by to visit and clobbers him on the back of the head.
Warmth and kindness? You’re sure this is Reed?
Sue scolds her for claiming there may be good in the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy, which is pretty bold coming from the woman whose side love interest wants to destroy all of humanity.
Ben and Johnny show up to defend Alicia, but Ben finds that, despite his anger, he can’t bring himself to punch “Doom.” They decide to take him back to headquarters so that “Reed” can help them decide what to do with him, which Reed-in-Doom protests.
Doom-in-Reed realizes he’s about to be found out and tries to get the three under the shrink ray as soon as possible, telling them that they’ll be better able to deal with Doom after they’ve increased their powers. At this point they’re pretty suspicious, though.
Johnny creates the illusion of a stick of dynamite in the room, and this explanation of how he does it with his heat powers is a stretch even by comic standards. Reed-in-Doom jumps on the fake dynamite to shield the others, and I’m not entirely sure I buy Reed being quite that self-sacrificing. Captain America he isn’t. Doom-in-Reed, on the other hand, flees by slithering up a pipe, and that I can believe.
The shock causes Reed and Doom to switch bodies once again. I like the negative space in the above panels – this kind of composition is not a commonly seen one in this time period.
Doom has one more trick, though. He has a “sub-miniature transistor powered atomic blast gun” in his fingertips that Reed never noticed. While he’s blasting wildly at the Four, he accidentally turns his shrinking ray on and stands in the path of it.
I like how he has enough time to say several sentences’ worth of dialogue while standing under the deadly rays.
Doom shrinks to nothing and I’m sure we’ve seen the last of him.
‘Twas a more innocent time, when a comic book pin-up would be this tame.
I don’t see what the point is of showing off the controls of the Fantasticar if they’re not going to give us a labeled diagram. Give the people (me) what they (I) want!
An off-beat collector’s item, huh? I guess that’s one way to try and drum up interest for a story that’s really just kind of mediocre.
On the other hand, the promise of slice of life antics with Fantastic Four is far more appealing to me. Even as a kid, I was absolutely into any book or episode of TV showing the ordinary lives of heroes and the like.
I’m not the only one, I suppose. Sometimes when these books claim that readers were writing in demanding something, I take it with a grain of salt, but I can definitely believe that reader letters requested this kind of story, probably because it’s the kind of thing I would have asked for, too.
We’ve still got the meta conceit from the last issue, where the Fantastic Four comics are being written in-universe as embellished versions of their real-life adventures. Of course, we have some unsubtle boasting here, with people lining up around the block to get their hands on the latest FF.
The Four run into a group of kids playing as them. Ah, for the days when it was okay for a kid to run around on a crowded sidewalk with sparklers in each hand.
They entertain the kids for a bit, and then head to the headquarters, where the mailman is bringing a sack of fan mail the size of a person. While I’m sure this is meant to encourage kids to write in, it seems like it could easily have the opposite effect: “Oh, they’re getting so much mail that mine won’t matter.”
Ben gets a “present” with a spring-loaded boxing glove inside, courtesy of the Yancy Street Gang. Reed calms him down by once again attempting to change him back into a human, something which works… momentarily. You’d think Reed would stop trying to cheer Ben up this way, given how hit always fails in a few minutes.
The group starts to reminisce about the past for the benefit of the readers. Reed and Ben met as roommates in “State U” – the nondescript name is kind of surprising given that Marvel comics usually reference real-world names. It’s a bit surprising that self-proclaimed genius Reed Richards went to a state school instead of something more obviously prestigious. In the next couple of panels he says that he was a millionaire’s son and that Ben grew up “on the wrong side of the tracks” but was going to college on a football scholarship. They became friends, but unfortunately we don’t really see how or why.
After college, both men enlisted and fought in World War II. Spoiler alert: we’ll see a cameo of Reed Richards, Freedom Fighter when we get to Sgt. Fury.
This does make me wonder how old they’re supposed to be, though. Marvel comics generally take place in the present day of when they were published, unless otherwise specified. That means this is 1963, so WWII was around twenty years ago. They graduated from college before enlisting, which would put them both in their 40s. On the page after this, Reed says that he and Sue were kids living next door to each other, which would put her in her 40s or late 30s depending on how big of an age gap there is. Johnny’s still in high school, and while that kind of gap between him and Sue is certainly not impossible, it is rare.
It’s strange to me because, despite Reed’s graying hair, I never thought of these characters as in their 40s, and the way the romance elements are depicted definitely does not make these characters seem that old.
Only like two panels later we get a good example of how this is weird. Reed mentions that Sue was the “girl he left behind in the war,” and once again we launch into the tiresome love triangle dynamic. But if he and Sue were an item that far back, that means it’s been twenty years and they haven’t gotten married yet. Reed, I seriously don’t think Namor is your problem. If Sue doesn’t want to commit to you after twenty years, it’s probably just not ever going to be a committed relationship.
And then a few panels later Johnny mentioned he cheered for Ben when he was a college football star, and how was he even born then? Clearly I’m putting way too much thought into this.
Anyway, the Four once more recap their origin story.
And because fandom never changes, we now get into Sue’s hate mail. I don’t doubt for a second that they got actual letters complaining about Sue – not that she should be given better characterization and more to do, but that she should simply be eliminated from the book.
To their credit, Reed and Ben immediately jump to her defense.
Even if it’s, uh, misguided.
Yes, Reed’s argument for why Sue is important is basically that she runs support for the men while they do the actual battles. Of course, in the days when this was written, this was a completely ordinary and unremarkable view of women. In fact, even now it’s still a pretty damn prevalent one.
And of course, the problem with Sue isn’t that she mostly provides support – even if it is a problem, in aggregate, that the female characters don’t get to do as much as the male. To me, the biggest problem is that this is also their approach to Sue’s characterization, thin as it is. She exists in her relationships to the men in her life and has very little inner life of her own. What does she want when she’s not being buffeted around by the Four or Namor? What does she want her role on the Four to be? We just don’t know, and it’s unfortunate.
Also, Reed, maybe this kind of attitude is part of why she’s not too thrilled to settle down with you. Just saying.
Ben changes back to the Thing, because of course he does. Sue realizes that she was wrong to be disturbed by getting hate mail literally calling her worthless and wishing she would leave the team, when she could instead be doing emotional labor.
An alarm goes off from the spaceship they kept from their adventure on Planet X. What could it be?
Well, at least they remembered Sue’s birthday! I’ll admit this is cute, even if Ben does try to spoil things with a “females don’t ever shut up” crack.
Unfortunately, slice of life with the Fantastic Four is only half of this book. It’s telling that they lead with this half, as the story of the Impossible Man is not that great.
Anyway, the Impossible Man touches down in a “hobo jungle,” declaring he’s from the “Planet Poppup, in the tenth galaxy! Where else?” He asks for food, but the hobos say they’re “legitimate hobos” and refuse to share without cash.
Guys, I don’t think you’ve flipped your lid, I’m just not all that charmed by the forced whimsy you’ve got going on here.
*tips fedora* m’lady
So anyway, the Fantastic Four get called in to deal with this menace. The Impossible Man explains that on his planet, his people is under constant threat from hostile wildlife, so they’ve evolved the ability to change themselves into anything. He came to Earth out of boredom, by turning himself into a spaceship.
He doesn’t particularly care when Reed explains that you can’t just take money from a bank, and the fight is on. He stops Ben by turning himself into spikes, and would that even hurt him? For the purposes of this book, it does. Johnny is defeated when he turns himself into a plastic bag of water. He becomes a high-powered projectile to escape Reed’s grasp, and bursts into flowers when Sue is about to catch him.
He escapes the Fantastic Four by turning into a buzzsaw, and is confused when the pedestrians have trouble getting out of the way, finally coming to the above realization. His first act is to steal a cab and drive like crazy down the street, menacing pedestrians, as if he’s in an open-world video game.
The Four catch up to him, as do the National Guard, but he thinks it’s all a fun game, and easily scatters them by turning into a bomb.
After some more shenanigans, Johnny gets him to drop out of the sky, and he seems to be unconscious for a moment… but then reveals he’s still just toying with them.
Reed gets an idea: he’ll get everyone to ignore the Impossible Man until he loses interest and goes away. This never really works with school bullies, but I do believe that Reed is the kind of person who thinks it does.
This is not how I remember the Old Man and the Sea. Oh wait, I guess it’s the Old Man of the Sea.
Reed advises the police and government to make the official policy on Impossible Man “ignore him.” It works: the Impossible Man gets so bored that he leaves. The end.
I think this one bothers me because I actually do like the concept. Here’s a character whose power set makes him incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to defeat, but he’s not truly malicious, just capricious and looking for fun. The problem is that there’s a really fine line between being irritating to our characters and being irritating to the audience. Impossible Man isn’t really endearing in any way.
Do you like your men shirtless and with enormous eyebrows? How do you feel about destroying the human race? Are you literally Sue Storm? Then this pin-up is for you.
I continue to love the fact that Namor decorates his home like a tacky themed seafood restaurant.
I covered the initial issues of Incredible Hulk a while back, but suffice to say they weren’t exactly setting the world on fire. Hulk’s book was cancelled after just six issues. It’s pretty clear that Lee and Kirby were fond of the character, though, because they kept him alive through making him a cameo in other books and a major part of the upcoming Avengers title.
We start off with Ben taking Alicia on a nice date to the symphony. As they’re walking out, they spot the National Guard walking down the street. They mistake the Thing for the Hulk and attack him. Why’s the National Guard looking for the Hulk in the middle of Manhattan, anyway? It seems like that’s exactly the sort of place the Hulk avoids.
Finally, the misunderstanding is cleared up, and Ben goes home angry. He discovers he’s dropped his key, so he tears the door off its hinges and climbs up the elevator shaft. You’d think that the Fantastic Four would have some sort of security alarm for this kind of thing.
Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster, Ben.
Anyway, General “Thunderbolt” Ross comes to see the Fantastic Four about destroying the Hulk, who has been sabotaging missile installations in the desert (or so he thinks).
Ross shows them the pictures the military has of the Hulk, and the men fantasize about how they’re going to personally defeat him.
The next order of business is showing off the redesigned Fantasticar. I don’t doubt that they actually did get letters complaining that the old Fantasticar looked like a bathtub. This version does look much cooler.
Needs a labeled diagram, though.
I like that the narrator is sticking to the conceit that the speed of the Fantasticar is classified.
They arrive at the military base and attend a meeting with Dr. Bruce Banner, who has an actually convincing explanation of why the Hulk could not have done it. He’s accompanied by his assistant, Karl Kort, and his “young helper,” Rick Jones.
I would think that a man who constantly has a young teen hanging around him, being extremely secretive and sneaking off all the time, would raise some eyebrows.
Ben and Ross get into a testosterone pissing match where Ross claims that the Fantastic Four are probably afraid of the Hulk. That results in this delightful exchange. I can’t tell if “bound set of telephone books” is meant to be a gag or if it’s something a military man might have actually had in the sixties.
Meanwhile, Bruce and Rick explain that they’re calling the saboteur “The Wrecker,” since they’re sure that it’s not the Hulk. Johnny has found Karl Kort’s dropped wallet in the hallway, and gives it to Rick to pass along to him.
Bruce and Rick head off on their own to investigate. Bruce explains the purpose of one of the projects that was sabotaged: it was intended to be a missile defense shield.
It wouldn’t be a Hulk comic without Cold War intrigue, and so Rick finds out that Karl is a card-carrying commie! Oh no!
I love the idea that this deep undercover agent, sabotaging American military projects, just happens to carry around an “I’m a Communist” card in his wallet.
Meanwhile, the Four are fixing the army’s equipment for it. We learn that Ben can apparently withstand 50Gs worth of force. Honestly, I’d be more surprised that the rocket sled can withstand it.
A mysterious machine pokes out of the ground and twists the rails of the rocket sled, causing an accident that flings Ben high into the air, in another case of obvious sabotage.
Just then, Bruce arrives, claiming that Rick has been kidnapped by the Wrecker. The Wrecker’s conditions for freeing Rick are that the Four leave the area. Since the note was addressed to the Hulk, Bruce can offer no proof of his claims, nor his claim that the Hulk was not responsible for the sabotage. The Four are reasonably suspicious of him, which means Bruce feels like he has no choice but to turn into the Hulk and drive them off himself.
Karl takes Rick to catacombs underneath an abandoned Western ghost town, for the atmosphere. Meanwhile, Hulk prepares to take on the Four.
To jaded modern eyes, this kind of superhero fight is pretty commonplace, but I could see this being exciting and dramatic to 60s kids who wrote in wanting to see the Thing and the Hulk fight.
I like how Sue is specifying that it’s a wooden-frame house being hurled at their faces.
The Hulk slaps his hands together, producing an ear-splitting sound that takes Reed, Johnny, and Sue out of commission for the moment. This is, of course, so that Ben and Hulk can fight one-on-one, which they do for several pages. However, both Ben and the readers are cheated out of the end of the fight when the Hulk is knocked out by a mysterious ray gun.
It’s the machine of the Wrecker. Ben makes quick work of it, and discovers Karl and a captive Rick inside. Karl threatens Rick with the same ray he used on the Hulk, but Sue sneaks up behind him and smashes the ray on the ground. I’m glad they gave her something to do apart from moral support.
This basically proves the Hulk’s innocence. Ben claims he knew all along. Meanwhile, Hulk, still woozy from the ray, retreats to change back into Bruce. The Four depart, and Bruce and Reed share a Science Handshake.
Next time on Marvel Librarian!