Thursday, January 31, 2013

185: The Fantastic Four #31

The Fantastic Four #31 
July 9, 1964
  • Hey, guys - the Mole Man's back! What, no great cheer? That's understandable: After all, it's the Mole Man. This is the third time he's appeared in these pages - his last outing being in issue #22 - but Stan keeps on bringing him back. The problem is that he was the villain seen in the Fantastic Four's very first adventure, so it'd be nice if the readers cared about him ... but the sad truth is that he's just not very interesting. And maybe Stan & Jack will start to realize that, as he won't be seen again in these pages until 1969's issue #88! (Also: What's up with his coloring? Previously he'd sported a green jumpsuit and green cape, but now it's a green and purple ensemble. Except... on the cover he's got a green suit and purple cape, while inside it's a purple suit and green cape! Maybe that's why he'll be back to green-on-green the next time we see him.)

    "New Look" Mole Man seems almost debonair!
    (Now, now - I did say "almost".)

  • The tale opens with the FF in their Baxter Building headquarters, shocked by a sudden and inexplicable earthquake. When they rush out to investigate, they find an entire city block has vanished, leaving a gaping hole in its place! Oddly enough, the Thing wonders if the Hulk might be responsible - despite the fact that when their own building had been plucked out of the ground, it was due to the machinations of Dr. Doom. Upon descending the newly-created block-sized pit to its bottom, the Four discover the Mole Man, who reveals that his end goal is the same as it ever was: conquest of the surface world. BORING! Have none of these villains ever thought about how much work, management, and, ultimately, paperwork must be required if they ever once attained their aim of global conquest? The first time I recall this point ever being made was in 1987's surprisingly decent Emperor Doom graphic novel; 1964, on the other hand, is probably far too early to expect that kind of self-awareness. (This is, after all, when a villain like The Wizard can come back for no greater reason than settling a grudge against the hero who first defeated him - again and again and again.  Deep motivations they definitely lack!)

    That's a bit harsh, Sue.  It's not Stan & Jack's
    best tale by far, but it's not

  • After the Mole Man takes Sue Storm hostage - yes, the Invisible Girl's role in the story is relegated to simply a prisoner to be fought over, once more - ol' Moley tells the FF to leave him to his conquest ... and that if they or anyone else attacks him, Sue's life is forfeit. They return to the surface, as directed, and immediately find the Avengers investigating the enormous hole, ready to descend. This of course is a very artificial way of providing the two teams an opportunity to fight - and yet this guest-appearance isn't even teased on the cover, as you might expect. The manufactured tension fortunately lasts not much longer than a page, but even this minor diversion can't distract from our noticing that the plot is paper thin: Our heroes go to the Mole Man, then they head back to the surface, then they return and defeat him. It's somewhat reminiscent of the famously padded stories in early Doctor Who, for instance, which could often be broken down into broad strokes of "captured - escape - captured - escape", and a lot of running about from place to place.

    Yes, but how do the city blocks stay in place once they're raised?

  • Fortunately, the issue does see one element that genuinely excites the reader's interest. Near the start of the tale, Sue sees a newspaper article and photo proclaiming the daring escape of a certain prisoner, and reacts with alarm. She doesn't want to discuss it, but instead heads to the police station to investigate on her own, leaving an insecure Reed to wonder if the older man in the photo is some lost love from her past. Only in the tale's finale, as Sue lies hospitalized from an injury sustained in the subterranean battle, does the escaped prisoner step forward. Not only is he a world-renowned surgeon, and the only person who can safe her life - but he's also Sue & Johnny's long-lost father! After successfully performing the needed operation, the police come to take him away again, but we finish this otherwise humdrum tale with our interest fully piqued: Who is this mysterious character, and what is his story? Readers would have to come back the next month to find out...!

    Father revealed ... and a mystery teased.