Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Art Simek
The Puppet Master is the creepiest looking Marvel villain I have met thus far. I mean…just look at him! He’s got “creepy” written all over him. He’s got a lot of what you think would make someone look attractive–long eyelashes, small nose and finely shaped eyebrows, a good set of teeth–but when you actually see it all put together, you’re like…gehhhh…never mind, maybe not.
Of course his power, the ability to make others do his will, is excessively creepy all by itself. That’s a serious super-power that can go badly in the wrong hands. So, let’s get to our story, and see how badly it goes (or not) for our heroes, the FF.
MEET THE PUPPET MASTER
As Reed is working on a secret project in his lab, Sue and Johnny attempt to keep Thing from entering. Angry, Thing leaves, and Sue follows, invisibly. When they see someone about to jump off a bridge, Sue sets off the “4” flare, and Johnny flames on to rescue the jumper. At the same time, we see the Puppet Master attempt to push a doll of a “nameless nobody” from a toy bridge. A flame bursts from his finger, and he realizes that the Human Torch has intervened in his “test.”
Alicia runs into the room, concerned because her “father” has cried out, but the Puppet Master sternly reminds her that he is not her father, only her stepfather.
The Puppet Master sends Alicia to her room, then reveals to us that Alicia is blind, and his dolls are composed of “radioactive clay.” (Oh! I see! So that’s what causes a person to lose their free will… Whew! Glad that’s cleared up! For a minute there, I was afraid this wasn’t going to make SENSE!)
The Puppet Master carves a doll in the image of Thing, who in real life is drawn to his house. As Thing comes in, with Invisible Sue behind, blind Alicia alerts her fath–uh, stepfather, that two people have entered, not one.
The Puppet Master uses ether to cause Sue to fall asleep, and she becomes visible again. Seeing that Sue and Alicia look alike, the Puppet Master disguises Alicia as Sue, and has her accompany Thing back to FF HQ. Still under the Puppet Master’s control, Thing attacks, but in the lab, he crashes into the vial of potion Reed has been working on…and changes back to Ben Grimm! (This, of course, is the “secret” they were trying to keep from Thing earlier; just in case it turned out to be a bust, they didn’t want him to get his hopes up.)
Before they have a chance to marvel over the transformation from Thing to Grimm, the others realize that Sue isn’t really Sue, and quickly after that, Ben turns back to Thing. But whether Grimm or Thing, Alicia likes “the strong, kindly one.”
Meanwhile, the Puppet Master has used a clay doll of the prison warden to set free all the prisoners. As the Puppet Master plays with his dolls, orchestrating the prison break, Sue wakes up and attempts to escape, but the Puppet Master stops her by holding the ankles of a Sue Storm doll.
Sue manages to set off her flare gun, and when the others arrive, they must fight the Puppet Master’s robot. This is only a temporary distraction, however, as the Puppet Master soon escapes on a winged horse, taking Sue as hostage.
Which proves to be another temporary distraction, as Reed easily rescues Sue with one long arm.
Next, the FF head over to the prison riot, where Torch rescues the warden, and Thing wraps a bunch of iron cell doors together as a cage, capturing a whole kaboodle of escaped prisoners.
Other prisoners are firing guns, but the bullets bounce off Mr. Fantastic, and he “shoots” them right back “like a sling-shot.” Reed disarms the prisoners, and Torch wraps them in a ring of fire as the warden, returned to his right mind, gets the guards to round up the prisoners.
Meanwhile, Alicia sits tearfully by a window, now aware what a “menace” her stepfather is. The Puppet Master comes in and tells her his plan for world domination, how he will use a puppet of himself dressed like a king to “control armies, nations” and get kings and dictators to do his bidding. He will tear down the UN, demote the current world leaders to his personal wait staff, and as for the FF:
Alicia decides this is just too much, and as she objects and reaches for the doll, there is a struggle. Alicia slips, and the Puppet Master trips over her arm and tumbles through the window.
The Fantastic Four burst in and Thing comforts Alicia.
End of story.
And end of the Puppet-Master…. Or is it?
I feel certain we have not yet seen the last of the Puppet Master. I remember that horrible face, and I don’t think I’m remembering it from only this story. At the bottom of the last page, Alicia reports that her stepfather fell through the window–which, by the way, how does she know, since she is blind and didn’t actually see it happen? But Reed says, “We saw him down below.” Notice that Reed does not say, “We saw him down below and he was a bloody mess of broken bones, no way he could have survived that fall, he’s dead for sure.” Nope. We have no actual report on his injuries, or his fate.
There is a truism in comics that if you don’t see a body, they ain’t dead. And this is surely one of those times. This issue is left open-ended, ripe territory for revisiting this particular villain.
Since my short experience with Marvel comics tells me we are probably not yet through with the Puppet Master, in evaluating him as a villain, I will not list “defeated by the FF” as one of his failings. In fact, there are not too many things I would list as failings. He’s got that all-consuming desire for world domination that seems so much more villainous than “Haha! I’ll hypnotize them and steal their wallets!”
So: craves world domination, in the Plus Column. Manipulates people against their wills—also in the Plus Column. However, his means of manipulation, a radioactive clay, works against him. How much of this stuff does he have? Will it ever run out? What if someone else gets their hands on it? His source of power is not without issues.
Also, I have this against the Puppet Master: I don’t think his name is appropriate for his superpowers. True, he manipulates people AS IF they are puppets, but this manipulation involves dolls more than puppets. Of course, “puppet” sounds much more manipulative than “doll.” If we say he uses “dolls” to achieve his evil schemes, that sounds just plain goofy. And in fact, if memory serves me correctly, there will be some sort of “Doll” villain in the near future, and he will be rather goofy. “The Puppet Master” sounds menacing. But the fact remains: he plays with dolls.
Yes, the Puppet Master is creepy, with a powerfully creepy power, and I’ll put him pretty high up on my villain list. But the real excitement in this story is the introduction of Alicia, who will become a love interest for Thing. WHAT?! You might well exclaim. A LOVE interest for Thing? Well, of course, she would have to be blind. Right? She doesn’t see him, but can sense that he is strong and powerful…yet gentle. Whether as Ben Grimm or Thing, Alicia is attracted to his inner qualities. Although a bit heavy-handed, there’s a wonderful lesson here about not judging a book by its cover.
I haven’t seen much of Alicia yet in my readings, but I think it’s clear she’s a “good person,” a noble character. And very quickly, we see her loyalties shift. She starts out calling the Puppet Master “Father,” though he is only her stepfather, so we have a sense that she is devoted to him. But when she learns what a terrible louse he is, she is distraught, and wonders what she will do if he should require her to once again participate in his evil plans.
Well, we know what she will do, because she does it right away. She says “No way, Jose!” and makes an attempt to stop him (“It is wrong! It is madness! You have no right!”). And she does, indeed, stop him. She may be physically blind, but now that she sees the true nature of this man she has called “Father,” she decides to put concern for all mankind before her daughterly duty.
ALSO OF INTEREST…
My main interest in this story is the introduction of Alicia, but we also discover a few facts about the Fantastic Four that might be worth noting for future reference.
For instance, did you know that Sue cannot maintain her invisibility when she is asleep? The Puppet Master gas-masks himself, Alicia and Thing, then releases ether, which puts invisible Sue to sleep, and causes her to become visible. Hmmm…. Interesting…. But the bigger question is…how did the Puppet Master know that would happen? Did he read it in Villains Weekly magazine?
Also, have you ever wondered if Mr. Fantastic’s stretching ability is limitless? Apparently not, because when the need arises to rescue the bridge-jumper, Reed stretches as far as he can, but it’s not enough. Another “Hmmm…”
And Torch? Well, we find here that he can’t “flame on” if he’s recently overexerted his flaming abilities. On occasion he can’t participate in heroics with the others, because he is literally “burned out.”
As for Thing, the story starts with him getting all bent out of shape because he thinks the others are keeping secrets from him (“Whenever something important comes along, I ain’t GOOD enough to be told about it!”). He’s hot-headed, impatient, prone to violence and/or sulking whenever he feels disrespected. For someone made of rock, he’s incredibly sensitive.
So each of our heroes has a weakness, but fortunately, whether it’s a gaping hole in their superpowers or an outright personality flaw, the others are always there to pick up the slack. If Sue becomes dangerously visible, Thing will protect her. If Johnny can’t flame on, Reed will stretch out to save the day. And no matter how many times Thing pitches a hissy-fit, his teammates will always take him back into the fold.
Because they are family, and that’s what family does.
And now Alicia is about to become an “honorary” member of this family. The circle widens. The villain list grows. And there’s more where all this comes from, when old and new enemies threaten in upcoming issues of The Fantastic Four.
But before that happens, our next venture into the Marvelous Zone will involve a double dose of large, mean and green! You know who I’m talkin’ about. So don’t miss it!
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