Thursday, March 24, 2011

123: Fantastic Four #24


Fantastic Four #24
December 9, 1963

  • The threat this time out is the Infant Terrible (though this is just a name given it by the Four, as the alien creature never speaks). Reed explains to his teammates - and, by extension, the readers - that "The French have an expression called enfant terrible, Johnny! It means a child who does dreadful things!" The phrase's entry at dictionary.com expounds on this, stating that it also refers to "a person whose work, thought, or lifestyle is so unconventional or avant-garde as to appear revolutionary or shocking." (Which makes more sense as a term to have gained popular usage, rather than just another way of saying "naughty child".) See - comics can be educational! Amusingly, when the alien is next mentioned, in 1983's Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, they needed a name to refer to the race - and, fittingly, chose "The Elan". I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that was a brainchild of the beloved and sadly-missed Mark Gruenwald, writer and super-editor extraordinaire; not only was he instrumental in the creation of the OHOTMU, but the joke fits his well-known clever wit.

    This early scene gives a good indication of the trippy developments to come.


  • This is another tale of aliens coming to Earth, as with so many of this era - but unlike the bulk of them, it's not to spearhead an invading force. Instead, the title character is just a lost child who stumbles about causing surreal havoc in the course of amusing itself, such as the creation of a giant milk bottle floating in mid-air, an enormous spinning toy top, or robot soldiers which duplicate when hit (predating by a dozen years Madrox the Multiple Man). What's nice is that Stan and Jack don't try to keep this twist a surprise at the end, by which point the readership will have already figured it out; not only does the FF realize the alien creature's nature after their first encounter, but Stan and Jack feel no shame in telegraphing the story's unusual bent on the cover itself.

    Reed conjectures on the terrible consequences if the kid is not sent to his room.


  • So if the twist of the alien being nothing more than an uncontrolled child is not the thrust of the story, then what is? Once again, it's Stan's innovation at asking himself how regular folk might react to news of the extraordinary. Specifically, as soon as the authorities broadcast Reed's theory of the alien as child - albeit one with ridiculously dangerous reality-altering abilities - a criminal boss gets it into his head to kidnap the creature and use him in their employ to break into armored trucks, turn small diamonds into gigantic ones, etc. Needless to say, it doesn't go as smoothly as they'd like. Reed, meanwhile, is concerned that at any moment the alien might turn his attention to the sun, with catastrophic consequences - but fortunately, his interstellar radio call to the child's parents pays off in time, as they swoop in at the last moment to reclaim their wayward tot.

    Coming soon to a theater near you: Mob Funnies!


  • Although the story might not be the most thrilling adventure the FF have ever had, take another moment to marvel at the cover! The dramatic perspective gives the character a larger-than-life feel that fits his do-anything power, and the tableau of planets is a surprisingly effective invitation to a story of science fictional wonder. And if the story inside seems more a yarn of space wonder than we've seen in some time, there's good reason - for the fine folks at the Marvel Universe Appendix have pointed out that a similar story of a rampaging alien infant was first seen in Tales of Suspense, and another one just two years later in Amazing Adventures (the anthology comic that would eventually become Amazing Fantasy). As we've seen before, Stan never let a good idea go unrecycled!

    Aw, man!  So much trouble that Mom and Dad had to come pick him up?
    I think it's safe to say that kid is totally
    grounded!