Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Marvels: Fantastic Four #28

"We Have to Fight the X-Men!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone
(July 1964)

Stan's latest attempt to force Marvel readers to love the X-Men is an all-out fight with the Fantastic Four. Such is the power of how boring the X-Men are in their earliest incarnation that even an appearance in Marvel's flagship book can't sell me. The X-Men are a tedious, under-characterized bunch.

The villains this time around are the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master. The Puppet Master has been running free since his escape in Strange Tales #116, but this is only the Thinker's second appearance since his debut back in Fantastic Four #15. No word on exactly how he escaped prison or stole his Awesome Android back from Reed Richards, although he boasts that he did. His plan is to use radioactive clay to mold the likeness of Professor X, so that Puppet Master can take control of the man and they can use the X-Men to fight the Fantastic Four.

I feel like this creates a continuity error. At this time, the existence of Professor X as the leader of the X-Men is still a secret. Remember in X-Men #3 when it was imperative that Xavier wipe the Blob's mind so that he forget everything about the X-Men? The Thinker does say that he's had to estimate just what exactly Professor X looks like, but he's also calculated the exact amount of resistance to expect and exactly how much of the magic radioactive clay to use to the nearest third of a gram in order to control Professor X. And the second he's in their power, they take advantage of Xavier's mental powers, so...

Through Professor X, the Thinker and the Puppet Master order the X-Men to capture the Fantastic Four. The X-Men don't understand this order, but the possessed Xavier insists the FF have world domination in mind. The X-Men then just head over to the Baxter Building for a social call, because this is before the X-Men were hated and feared, and were basically celebrities despite also living in secrecy. Remember, the Angel has fangirls but also their existence is shrouded in mystery and they're the subject of a news article that apparently has obtained photos of the elusive X-Men for the first time. So... basically no one is sure if the X-Men are famous and loved or whatever. Just... just love them and read their comic, okay? It's been a year already.

They all make nice, but the inevitable fight begins. The teams are a little evenly matched, although it takes three of them to stop the Thing. Marvel Girl gets to use her telekinesis more here than she has probably in all five issues of X-Men so far. To no reader's surprise (but to my annoyance), Sue gets captured by the X-Men, apparently because she thinks it's impolite to fight back, since the X-Men are supposed to be good guys. They also get Alicia out of the way of the fight by just literally putting her on top of the record player. But the FF follow, and there's more fighting, and traps designed to take out the FF, and the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master reveal themselves, and the FF free themselves, and the Beast destroys the puppet so Professor X goes free, and both teams fight the Awesome Android to a standstill over, like, five pages.

Then the villains escape in a rocket plane and the X-Men go back home. The teams part as friends, and the Awesome Android remains with its original creator, Reed Richards. I'm sure we won't see it again until the Mad Thinker finds another way to take control of it.

Stray observations:

:: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl and Human Torch spend the first two pages practically fawning all over a newspaper article about the X-Men, all for the benefit of the Marvel reader. They list off all of the villains the X-Men have fought (including, incorrectly, the Space Phantom, who actually fought the Avengers; given the order the villains are listed in, Stan is clearly confusing the Vanisher for Space Phantom). This is that trope where rather than seeing for ourselves how clearly amazing the X-Men are, the other characters just stand around telling you in order to build this whole thing up.

The Thing, meanwhile, is much more concerned with the statue of him that Alicia has created, which is quite dynamic... "considerin' that no statue could be as lovable as I really am in livin' color!" (Sadly, Marvel Girl destroys this statue by accident.)

:: Jack Kirby's Mad Thinker...
...reminds me of John Kerry.

:: Cyclops seems aware of the Thinker when he's baiting the FF into the trap. Probably just a continuity error for plot expedience. This issue is packed full, yet it feels like almost nothing happens. It's mostly fighting.

:: The issue also ends with Reed and Sue going on and on about how wonderful the X-Men are, complete with Stan going into a pitch about how you should go to the newstand and read X-Men. Ugh.

:: In the letters page, Neal Preston of Chicago says Dr. Strange is terrible and should be dropped. Strange seems to be getting an equal share of positive and negative notices across the various letters pages. Norma Ryan of Louisville wonders if Nick Fury and Pamela Hawley will ever get married, and hopes that Rick Jones will partner up with Captain America.

There's also a letter asking for a share of praise for letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen from Robert Cormier of Nahant, Massachusetts, and... wait, what? That's not the Robert Cormier, author of I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War and Massachusetts native, is it? Let's see, Wikipedia... he would have been 39 and already writing books in 1964. Fascinating possibility. I read I Am the Cheese in grade school.

:: It's in this issue's special announcements that Stan, in response to reader complaints that he has yet again accidentally called Bruce Banner "Bob Banner" in a story, officially gives the character's name as Robert Bruce Banner.

(Also in this section: thought the indicia are not, Stan is already referring to the series Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense as Thor and Iron Man, respectively.)

All in all, my least favorite issue of Fantastic Four so far. Normally one of Marvel's two best, this one is pretty skippable. It's just a sales pitch for why you should be reading X-Men, a comic that has serious structural issues. Unless you're an early X-Men diehard, it's not essential reading.

Next Marvels: guess it's time to finally finish that Thor story I started talking about back in February.

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