Thursday, September 18, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #24

"The Infant Terrible!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(March 1964)

I feel like this is becoming some sort of trope in the Marvel Universe now, but I don't know if there's a name for this. Weird things are happening out in the streets of New York City--a giant top spins in Times Square, the streets turn into a high-walled maze, and dozens of giant toy soldiers march openly. But it turns out to be an alien with weird reality-warping powers who is just sort of playing. Turns out, as fearsome as this alien is, he's actually just a child.

I love how Sue discovers this, by the way.

Yeah, he's just enjoying a soda after turning a lamppost into flowers. He's like an alien toddler, and he's lost and scared and throwing a hellacious temper tantrum. When photographers get in his face and flashbulbs start going off, the little guy reaches into outer space and pulls a storm of meteors down on New York City.

Reed dubs this guy the Infant Terrible (yes, after the french enfant terrible), and gets the others worried about what this irrational, non-communicative child could do to the world with his powers. Reed's big worry is that the Infant Terrible will get the idea to bring down the sun, destroying the planet. Why he goes there, I'm not sure, but we're all on Reed Logic here, which is to either assume the most outlandish disaster possible and then be prepared when it actually happens, or to watch something even more outlandish occur and chastise himself for not deducing its inevitability, despite the total lack of evidence. I don't know, I'm not a genius, so I don't understand how it works, I guess.

Anyway, Reed's not the only one who figures all of this out. Some gangster called Big Joe also works out the Infant Terrible's status, and tries to trick the alien into helping him commit robberies. It doesn't go well; the Infant Terrible thinks it's funny to turn the money into mud and birds, and Big Joe really loses it and the Infant Terrible throws another tantrum, which becomes a rampage, and there's a riot that Alicia Masters nearly gets crushed in, and then, as anticipated, the alien baby decides to pull the sun into the Earth.

But then the kid's parents show up and take him home.

Yes, Reed sent a message into space and, thankfully, the alien spaceship he contacted turned out to be the kid's parents, and they take him home and politely don't destroy the Earth.

So... yeah.

Stray observations:

:: My spell check does not recognize "hellacious."

:: While demonstrating their powers for the press, no one wants to pay any attention to poor Ben, but keep snapping pictures of Sue turning invisible. Guys, she's invisible. What are you taking pictures of? A room with a person not standing in it? C'mon, Ben just crumpled every phone book into a ball!

:: I love that the way to the Infant Terrible's heart is always ice cream and candy.

It's hard not to find this charming, but in kind of a stupid way.

:: The alien spaceship is rather familiar, isn't it?

I wonder what George Pal would think of this little steal.

:: In the letters page, Paul Gambaccini laments that Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos is a serious war comic, and not the parody he took it as. Stan Lee gives an interesting response: "A parody of WHAT, Paul? War itself is insane--senseless. How do you parody something which is like a mad nightmare to begin with?"

In general, the letters especially praise Stan & Jack for having the guts to go with the big reveal in "The Hate-Monger." There's also a letter from Don Glut, who I really hope is filmmaker, science fiction author and comic book and cartoon writer Donald F. Glut, who wrote the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back and wrote the great Dinosaur Dictionary. Since he made an amateur film about Spider-Man in the late sixties, I'm going to say it is, and that makes me happy.

:: The reason I called this plot setup a trope earlier is that "weird but kind of silly rampage" is becoming common in the Marvel Universe. The best examples are the times Loki ravaged New York, which mainly consisted of pranks and turning things into candy. Sue references the power of the Molecule Man for comparison, but I notice she doesn't mention the Impossible Man. Readers really hated him that much. But what's funny is, this is more or less the same story, just with more action and higher stakes. But it's just as silly as the earlier story.

Ultimately, I'm not sure this attempt to do the story this way entirely works. I get the whole sort of Twilight Zone vibe they're going for with the twists of the alien being an infant and the solar system nearly being destroyed, but I'm not entirely feeling it. It's a little too heavy on coincidences and Reed somehow just knowing what's going to ultimately happen.

Next time: Back to the 23rd century with Thor.

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