Saturday, June 07, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #20

"The Mysterious Molecule Man!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(November 1963)

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the Molecule Man is the first Fantastic Four villain that I don't find particularly menacing or interesting. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about this issue that doesn't work for me. It's a solid issue of a great comic, and Stan & Jack aren't holding back; the quality of their workmanship is as high as we've come to expect. But for some reason I can't really identify, the issue just feels a little... routine.

Am I just complaining about getting too much of a good thing? Have Stan & Jack set the bar so high that just meeting the bar is no longer enough for me? I'm not sure. I'm tempted to blame how boring I find the Molecule Man, but I'm not entirely sure it's just that. I wasn't a big fan of the Mad Thinker, either, but for the most part I enjoyed that issue.

Stan & Jack really try hard to sell us on the grave threat of the Molecule Man, too. So dire a threat to the survival of the universe is he that the Watcher, though forbidden is he to interfere in the affairs of other planets, actually contacts the Fantastic Four to warn them. (Note that this is the second time we've seen the Watcher, and the second time he's interfered.)

He tells them that the Molecule Man was a lab technician who was injured in a nuclear accident. (Funny how "injure" is not usually among the list of words you hear associated with a nuclear accident. Or "survivor," for that matter.) After his accident, the Molecule Man was left with the ability to "control every molecule in the universe."

At least, that's how they try to build this guy up. And he cuts a menacing figure at first, standing at the front of the Baxter Building as he makes it float over Times Square, declaring himself ruler of humankind. He can bend the molecules of everything around him to his will, rearranging the molecules in them to handily defeat the Fantastic Four in battle, sending them into retreat. But he's not done there: he wants the FF brought to him so badly that he encases all of New York City in glass, demanding that the FF be found.

The thing about all of this is, we've seen it before. This is pretty much the same stuff that the Impossible Man did back in Fantastic Four #11, only played as a menace rather than for laughs. The fans generally hated the Impossible Man (personally, I love the guy), and I can't help but feel that Stan has taken the seed of the idea (guy with reality-bending powers) and turned it into something serious. Honestly, maybe a little too serious.

The way the Fantastic Four defeat the Molecule Man only leaves me with questions, too. They make their way to Alicia Masters' apartment and pretend to be statues, luring in the Molecule Man and defeating him because, apparently, the Molecule Man can't control organic molecules. Maybe I've been listening to too much Star Talk Radio lately, but that doesn't sound right to me. I mean, if he can control all molecules, does it matter if they're part of an organic compound or not? You're talking about a guy with the power to reshape matter here. And then the Molecule Man seems to just not realize that there are other substances all over the apartment that he could manipulate to defend himself. I mean, earlier in the issue we saw him make ice out of air.

And really, all Reed does is knock the guy over and take his wand, disarming him so that the Watcher can pop in, grab the Molecule Man, and drag him away. So, the Fantastic Four didn't really defeat the Molecule Man so much as distract him so that a superior being could pull him into some kind of vortex.

And is the wand the real source of the Molecule Man's power? Without it, he seems defenseless. But if the nuclear accident gave him those powers, why does he need a wand at all? Or, if he has a wand that can reshape matter, why have him get in a nuclear accident, when he could have accidentally invented it? And if that's so dangerous, why does the Watcher leave the wand with Reed?

I haven't been this weirded out and frustrated by the end of a Fantastic Four issue since Reed hypnotized the Skrull agents into believing they were cows.

Stray observations:

:: Reed is excited to find a dehydrated acorn in a meteorite he's studying: "This proves some form of life must exist in outer space!" You mean like the Watcher? Or the Impossible Man? Or the Skrulls? Let's not go pissing ourselves over this acorn thing just yet.

:: The first fight between the FF and the Molecule Man is engagingly weird, though, particularly a scene where the Thing ducks into a sewer and the Molecule Man wraps him up by bending and re-shaping sewer pipes.

:: The NYPD gives up faster than the FF do. The Molecule Man raises a shield of bulletproof glass up out of nothing one time, and a cop immediately goes to "Our own weapons are useless to us!"

:: The Fantastic Four have been brought so low that they have to ride the subway.

This is the kind of goofy touch that makes me truly love this comic.

:: While hiding in New York, the FF are helped by members of the Yancy Street Gang. (Shadowed, of course.)

:: The letters page is full of praise for Doctor Doom. There's another letter from Richard Cohen, and once again I wonder if it's Richard Cohen from the Washington Post. That's two letters now. Someone find him and ask if he had letters published in Fantastic Four #20 and Amazing Spider-Man #5. One letter is from a Fantastic Four fan club and signed by its secretary, future Marvel Comics writer, artist and Editor-in-Chief Mark Gruenwald!

Okay, then.

There's also a letter from Bayonne, New Jersey's own George R.R. Martin, who dryly, sardonically appreciates FF #17.

:: In the special announcements, Stan hawks every one of the Marvel books, particularly a surprise appearance by Golden Age character Captain America (with a twist), announces the first-time teaming of Steve Ditko and Don Heck on the next Iron Man story, and promises a special guest star in the next issue of Fantastic Four. And it's a darn good one, too.

I feel like a right bastard calling this my least favorite issue of Fantastic Four so far, but something about it doesn't quite connect with me. Nonetheless, it's better than just about any of the current Marvel books (although I think Amazing Spider-Man has it equaled.)

Next Marvels: Thor is still angry, still needs things to punch.


Roger Owen Green said...

I e-mailed Cohen this morning.

SamuraiFrog said...

Wow! Can't wait to see if it's him.

Kal said...

I really like what they did with the Molecule Man during the Secret Wars. He is one of the most powerful beings ever in the Marvel Universe but just wanted to be left alone. I would like to see him make a comeback.