Thursday, February 3, 2011

109: Fantastic Four #22

Fantastic Four #22
October 8, 1963

  • Hurrah! A milestone is reached, as Sue Storm develops her new powers. For quite some time, readers have been unimpressed with Sue's contributions to the team, and Stan heard the complaints - even if he wasn't quite sure how to address them. Finally, though, he's figured out how to fix one of the main problems with her powers up to this point - namely, that all she could do with invisibility was hide herself. (Could it be that Stan finally realized the causal relation of one to the other?) So now he addresses it and then some: First, she gains the ability to create invisible force fields, of different sizes, shapes, and strengths. And secondly, instead of only being able to hide herself, she now can turn other people and objects invisible too. Although, oddly, this originally came with a bizarre limitation that Stan felt the need to spell out no fewer than three times in the course of the issue - that if she turns someone else invisible, it makes her become visible, and vice versa. However, it doesn't take a lot of reflection to realize that this doesn't make a lot of sense (why should turning someone else visible again make her disappear?), and this would soon be dropped.

    What?  Don't most buildings come zoned for missiles?

  • Meanwhile, despite all indications from the cover, the main complication the FF have to grapple with during the first half of the story is actually ... their neighbors. Appropriately enough for a story that revisits their very first issue, and the groundbreaking verisimilitude of character that issue represented, the four find themselves seemingly mired in real-world problems. From questions of their building's zoning regulations, to noise complaints and safety concerns, we see Stan asking the question of what if people with superpowers lived in our world, the real world - and how would that world affect them? In fact, it's so refreshing of a change from how superhero comics had been treated up till that point (and especially across the street at DC, in the pristine and uncomplicated adventures of Superman and the like), that it's rather frustrating to see those developments undermined by the requisite plot twist which reveals that all these problems had been engineered by the Mole Man, in a convoluted bid to lure them out to his new island....

    Sue testing her new abilities, Reed's exasperation, and the jokes of Ben & Johnny.
    Quite a full scene!

  • Ah yes - the Mole Man. Despite all the times the FF have faced off against Doctor Doom and Namor, this is the first time old Moley has returned since their debut. And it's interesting to realize why he's never become a major adversary to the four, because although he hasn't changed since their first meeting - indeed, his master plan this appearance is almost wholly a retread of that first - the Fantastic Four certainly have. Not just the Four either; the whole line of Marvel Comics superheroes has been coming together, and forming a new age, what Stan in his endless efforts at self-promotion had already taken to calling "The Marvel Age of Comics". Having seen the course that's been charted over these 108 (so far) comics to date, a reread of Fantastic Four #1 reveals just how much it still belonged to the previous age - the 1950s era of cheap thrills and monster comics.

    It might have been more fear-inducing had he actually come up with
    different scheme than before....

  • Okay, so the Mole Man's Wacky Plan: First, he installs mechanical apparatuses under the various capital cities of the world, to steal them away to his subterranean lands. Then, he banks on each side of the Iron Curtain overreacting to such a degree that World War III is swiftly launched, and the surface world bombs itself into extinction. (Perhaps he took some cues from "The Saga of the Sneepers"?) Between the Cold War paranoia contained therein, and the dangers of radioactivity featured on the cover, Stan's certainly playing up all the fears we've come to know him for....

    While one of Stan's hallmarks was never talking down to his readers, this frankly embarrassing
    panel shows that even he could have his occasional off days.