Script: Stan Lee
Art: Jack Kirby
Inks: Sol Brodsky
Letters: Art Simek
Before I start, I must make an observation about this cover. On the first three comics I’ve reviewed, the cost was listed as 10 cents. Now here it is, about six months later, and the price has gone up to 12 cents. Heavens!! But really…it was a 20% increase in price, so even though it might not sound like much to us today, back when a Nestle’s Crunch bar only cost five cents, some young customers may have suffered heavily.
These early comics came out before the boy who is now my comic-loving husband began collecting them, so unfortunately we don’t have the hard copy of the original books here in the house. If only he or I or our parents had had enough foresight to plunk down ten or twelve cents for one of these beauties and put it immediately in an airtight bag for the next forty or fifty years…sigh…No aunt of mine is likely to die and have a stash of these in a basement closet. Oh well. Life goes on, and we can at least enjoy these stories as scans on our computer.
There are so many important “firsts” in this third issue of The Fantastic Four. Even on the cover, Stan tells us this is a “great, collectors’ item issue” because of the “firsts.” And not only is it a great collectors’ issue, but Stan goes on to assure us, in bold letters in the upper right corner, that this is, in fact, “THE GREATEST COMIC MAGAZINE IN THE WORLD!!” Wow…This is only the third issue, and already he is proclaiming it to be the greatest comic magazine in the world!
But don’t think Stan is going to stop there with declaring the current issue/story/villain/etc. is the best/most exciting/most terrifying/etc. you’ll ever see. No, each issue after this is very likely to declare that it is somehow bigger and better than the one before.
I always get a kick out of this. Stan and crew are in the business of selling comics, and they pull out all the stops in assuring their readers that their product is the best. When I see these bold statements, it makes me nostalgic for back when I was in high school or junior college, working on the newspaper or literary magazine, and having the feeling that we were writing our own rules about how these things should be done. Yes, I know we were supposed to be learning the proper way to produce these publications, but we were so full of ourselves, so bursting with self-confidence, that even if we didn’t actually proclaim “This is the greatest thing ever!” we certainly felt that way. The difference here is that Stan and crew are actually proclaiming it! With double exclamation points!! And they will continue to proclaim it, and those proclamations will get more and more audacious as time goes on, each one attempting to out-do the one before.
So I’m thinking this is so much fun, I’m going to create a feature in my blog called HYPERBOLE HEAVEN. I’m keeping a list! This is the first entry on that list, and as we go, I’ll add others, and see if in fact these affirmations do continue to out-do each other.
Now! Let’s start by opening the book…
We begin this story with our villain, the Miracle Man, who is, as far as I can tell, not much more than a gaudily dressed magician. There’s an audience, and Reed, Sue, Johnny and Thing are watching the show. The Miracle Man points them out as “celebrities in our audience” then goes on to mock them as he demonstrates all his own fantastic powers (turning to gas, becoming a giant, summoning thunder and lightning…)
Thing, of course, becomes irate and somehow gets called up on stage for a competition, which the Miracle Man easily wins (after all, it is his show.) Now Thing is even more irate, but he can’t seem to make a dent in the Miracle Man. As the four heroes travel home, Reed reflects that it’s a good thing the Miracle Man is not a criminal, because his powers are so great, they might not be able to defeat him!
Well, whattaya think? Of course he’s a criminal! He gets the idea to bring a giant monstrous statue to life “to strike fear into the heart of the public” and “make them realize that the human race is powerless against me!”
Meanwhile, back at Fantastic Four headquarters, Sue has designed costumes for them all, saying “if we’re a team, we should look like a team!”
They are trying on their new costumes when they see a TV news report that the statue has been brought to life and is attacking the city! Johnny sees the Miracle Man on TV, and they all jump to the conclusion that he must be behind this. (Of course, it’s a logical conclusion, and it just happens to be right, but it still was a “jump.”)
The Commissioner gets a handwritten note from the Miracle Man (“I, the Miracle Man, declare war on the whole human race!”) and authorizes the FF to do whatever they need to do to stop him. I think it’s interesting that the Commissioner immediately puts the FF to the task. Is there not a police force? Or is it obvious that the police are not equal to this task? As I mentioned before, this is only the third issue, and yet they have already risen to such prominence, command such respect, that when the chips are down, the authorities instantly rely on them.
The Four split up, each setting off in a hovering “chariot” sort of thing, and Reed spots the monster, stretches himself to make a net and captures it. But the Miracle Man knocks him out with a brick and rather rudely calls him a “rubber-limbed freak.”
Next, Torch battles the monster and burns him to ash. Story over? Not so fast. The Miracle Man blasts Torch with chemical foam. Thing steps up, but is unsuccessful in stopping the villain. Now it’s Sue’s turn. The Miracle Man is driving off with an atomic tank he’s stolen from the army, and Sue turns invisible and jumps on the truck.
Just before the others get ready to go out and find Sue and help her, we have another rehash of the origin story. This leads to some fighting between Johnny and Thing, as Thing is despondent over his condition. But Reed gets them all back on track and they head out.
Sue sees that the Miracle Man is hiding the atomic tank in a junkyard. A junkyard dog barks at her, and the Miracle Man figures out she’s there and commands her to become visible and summon the rest of her group. They arrive, they fight, the villain escapes, they pursue, and Johnny does his “Flame on!” thing to such an extent that the Miracle Man is temporarily blinded, and thus devoid of all his powers.
What? Yeah. It’s a very simple explanation. Which smarty-pants Reed has figured out and explains to the others. The Miracle Man is a hypnotist! This has all been nothing more than a case of mass hysteria. I’m not exactly sure why being temporarily blinded by Torch’s bright light suddenly nullifies the Miracle Man’s powers, but I guess if we are supposed to believe that a hypnotist could entrance an entire city, including people who are merely watching his shenanigans on television, then it’s not that big of a leap to believe that a bright light could take away those powers.
And now that the villain is devoid of all his powers, Johnny and Thing start squabbling again. Johnny flies off in a huff, saying he’s had it with the Fantastic Four. Basically, he runs away from home.
Which doesn’t strike me as so terribly dramatic, because teenagers are always pitching hissy fits and in most cases they get over it. But in the last panel, Reed wonders “what CAN we do, if…if he should turn against us?”
Turn against us? I didn’t get that from the story. Now, I know we’ve only seen the FF for a few issues at this point, but I haven’t seen anything yet about Johnny to indicate that he might secretly have a “dark side” that is so sinister, he could seriously consider turning to a life of crime and evil. I think if Stan really wanted us to consider that this might be a possibility, he should have laid the groundwork in the previous issues. But I don’t see any groundwork. This big finish moment simply feels like manufactured drama.
But I will say this: I don’t know if I’d feel the same way if it were Thing who was pitching a fit and running off. He’s a volatile character, always getting his ire up over any number of things. He’s so distraught over the hand he’s been dealt, having to live life as a rockman. The others have “cool” powers they can turn on and off and still go about leading relatively normal lives. But Ben can’t live a normal life looking like that! He’s really been handed the short end of the stick, and I almost wouldn’t blame him for being so mad about it that he would turn to evil.
Or maybe… a good deal of Thing’s irritability is simply due to the new “costumes” Sue has put together for the team.
The others look good in solid blue, but poor Thing doesn’t actually have a body for fashion, does he? At first, Sue gives him a blue mask, saying “this even makes you look glamorous!” Sorry, Sue. Nice try, but I don’t agree. And Thing complains “I ain’t gonna wear this fool outfit!” (Russ notes that Thing must have been channeling Mr. T, years before Mr. T ever came on the scene.) Later in this story, when Thing needs to go into action, he rips off the shirt, and in future issues he’ll get down to just shorts and boots, and after that, just shorts. I guess you can’t really keep an all powerful rockman wrapped up in an outfit that not only impedes his movements, but also attempts to hide what it is about him that makes him so totally unique and awesome in the first place! Let those rockman qualities shine! The shorts, I’m sure, are just for modesty’s sake.
Another first: We see the “Fantasticar.” To my eye, this looks like a giant floating gravy boat. Or maybe a bathtub. It’s got very round edges, not sporty looking at all. Sort of like your dad’s station wagon in 1962. But the cool thing about it is that it is “air-powered” and can FLY, and it also breaks apart into four sections, so they can each go off in a different direction, if need be. So, the Fantasticar doesn’t look like much, but it gets the job done.
Okay, I have to admit this up front: I love maps. I always have. To some degree, I think that’s why I’m so fascinated with this “cut-away diagram of the Fantastic Four’s secret headquarters.” It kind of takes you right out of the story when this diagram is presented at the bottom of page 5. I feel there could have been a better way to get this information across, without interrupting the story. But it’s information we need, to discover the extent of how fantastic these four really are.
Look at the things they have in their house! An observatory, a launch pad, a “hidden elevator,” a missile monitoring room, and in addition to the fantasticar, a fantasticoper and a pogo orbit plane (whatever that is!) These guys have all the toys! They are ready for anything!
And this brings up another point. How did they get all this stuff? They didn’t get it because of their super powers. No, it’s got to be because of their super WEALTH. This diagram is the first thing that really gives you a sense of how incredibly wealthy they are. Well, you might get a clue in the panel right before the diagram, when one of them says “and none of the tenants suspect that we own the entire tower of this building!” Yes, it’s great to have superpowers, I’m not denying that. But it’s also incredibly fortuitous that these superheroes also have the financial resources that allow them to have so much hardware at their disposal.
And how did they get all this stuff? I’m assuming it’s all Reed’s doing. Earlier I referred to him as a “smarty-pants.” I didn’t really mean to sound disparaging. (Well, okay…maybe a little.) But as best as I can figure, it’s Reed’s enormous intellect, work ethic, and dedication to success in all he does that has caused him to become this top notch rocket scientist, which in turn has provided all of them with these elaborate possessions and accommodations. Yea, Reed! Sure, you look a little goofy when we see you smoking a pipe…but go ahead, enjoy it! You deserve it!
Here we see Reed looking pretty much like the Reed Richards that we will eventually become familiar with. (Though, regrettably, a far cry from Ioan Gruffudd, the hunky actor who plays him in the movies.) But in a lot of these scenes, Reed doesn’t….quite….look like himself. And Johnny also has moments where you find yourself asking…”Who dat?”
Even Thing, on occasion, looks like he could be another Thing, from another group of superheroes. Which is my way of saying that in this early issue I feel artist Jack Kirby was still searching for the exact representations of these characters. If you’ve ever gone back to the pilot episode of one of your favorite TV shows, you might feel like you’re watching something that comes from an alternate universe. In the original pilot episode of Star Trek, “The Cage,” Spock displays a youthful eagerness, and even shouts his lines. You won’t see that in any of the later episodes, once they had a chance to refine his character. And who remembers The Simpsons, as they originally appeared on The Tracy Ullman Show in 1987? I feel like it won’t be very long, though, before the Fantastic Four characters tell the artist exactly what they look like.
Now, one more thing, then I must go. In the first Fantastic Four issue, we met the Mole Man. Then we met the Skrulls. And now we meet the Miracle Man. Which is the most worthy opponent? Well, as our story starts out, Reed tries to make us believe that the Miracle Man “might be the one foe we could not defeat!!” but when push comes to shove, a bright light completely incapacitates him. And now that his secret is out (that his “superpower” is merely the power of mass hypnosis), how difficult will it really be to keep him under control?
One would assume that at the end of this story he is being carted off to jail. All they’ve got to do is periodically shine a bright light in his face, and he’ll never bother anybody again.
The Miracle Man is nothing more than an accomplished magician. He doesn’t have any “real” powers, it’s all done with smoke and mirrors. I give him a C as a villain. But then, I only give The Mole Man a B-. And of course the Skrulls are holding firm at the bottom of the list, just above complete failure with a D. I’m still waiting for a villain that will really knock my socks off.
But do not fear! There’s lot more to come from Marvel Comics. So stay tuned!
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