Fantastic Four #15

Time to get all artsy and whatnot, with…The Thinker!

coverStan and Jack, June of 1963. Curiously, though he’s referred to here on the cover and on the opening title page as the Mad Thinker, nobody actually calls him that in the book anywhere. He’s just the Thinker. I’ve liked the Mad Thinker in his modern appearances, from the super creepy Jae Lee-drawn issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four (where the Thinker was a young girl) to his regular appearances as a villain for whom Reed has a grudging respect and has even gone to for advice. The Awesome Android I know mostly from its appearances in Dan Slott’s She-Hulk run, where it had been reformed and worked as a paralegal at her law firm under the name Awesome Andy. I’m a massive fan of that She-Hulk series, and Andy is a huge part of why it was so good. How is Andy’s original appearance? Let’s find out!

openThe first page of this issue is another curiosity, the first that actually doesn’t launch the story. It’s just a page featuring all the characters: head shots of the FF, a shot of the Thinker doing his thing (thinking, natch), a menacing mobster in a bowler, and the Android lurking in the back. The actual story doesn’t start until the next page, with a standard 9-panel page that lets you know how exciting this issue is going to be. That they would spend a whole page on what is essentially an ad doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

This story starts in a pretty traditional fashion for the FF, with Reed sending out a signal flare to gather the team, each of whom is out and about in the city. We get some light-hearted moments here as the heroes are running errands or otherwise occupied. Johnny gets interrupted on a date, which apparently happens a lot.

dateSue is getting her hair did. She does indeed have a new do this issue – she’s got bangs! As far as I can tell, this particular style never makes it to the cover trade mark. Would curlers result in the hair she has later this issue? I have no idea. I’ll trust Pierre here to know better than I would.

hair didThe best is Ben, though.

yancyOh, Yancy Street Gang, you loveable scamps! Reed’s signal flare interrupts Thing before he goes on a murder spree.

yancy 2
Oh the ’60s and your gentle homophobia.

Everyone is naturally annoyed that Reed has interrupted their day, especially since it doesn’t seem there’s a real emergency. Even Reed is bummed that he has to put a hold on his current experiment.

experimentHoly shit, Reed! What the hell are you doing experimenting with the creation of life? Because one-celled life is simple means it deserves to live a brief, tortured existence at your arbitrary will? What a damned monster!

Anyway, I’m curious to see if this will come up again. His previous interrupted experiment (new rocket fuel) popped up a couple issues later as the premise for a whole adventure, so there’s precedent.

Reed called them in because the chief of police had warned him of urgent news – mobsters and gang leaders from all over the country have gathered for reasons unknown in New York. The Fantastic Four should be on high alert!

What are all these mobsters doing in New York? Meeting their new boss, of course.

thinker meetMost of his panel time in this issue is spent in classic The Thinker pose. The schtick he uses here in his introduction is pretty much his biggest trick: he can predict any event with uncanny accuracy. In addition to being a great schemer and planner, Thinker has a dream.

thinker dreamthinker dream 2He just wants to get involved in local politics! I don’t see the difference.

His mooks point out that the Fantastic Four will be a problem, pointing out the various ways he’ll easily be defeated by them, but he assures them he’s got it covered.

computersHe offers up a few examples of how his genius has provided concrete results in the past. My favorite is this one and I don’t know why we don’t have a whole issue dedicated to this:

monkeyThinker initiates his plan! First up: the Human Torch.

bonesOkay, what. Does Johnny literally mean that Bones here is his actual blood relative cousin? Or is it just a term of endearment, meaning friend? So far nothing has been revealed at all about any of our heroes’ families, so it could go either way as far as I’m concerned. The prospect of the Storms having circus ties is delightful, though.

research-wrasslinNext up, Reed is offered a job at a General Electronics, Ltd., potentially as head of their research division. I would think Reed probably gets offers like this quite frequently, but given his independent wealth and freedom to pursue whatever research he wants it seems unlikely that he’d accept any such job.

Ben is offered an opportunity to be a wrestler. It seems strange to me that they keep coming back to this idea of Ben as a wrestler. The guy was a hot-shot pilot in the past, and test pilots were hugely popular figures in the ’60s. You’d think that’s where they would go, and it would be in keeping with Ben’s past. Surely an opportunity to test out rockets would be more tempting to him (the kind of work we saw him do in the Hulk issue). I assume Stan and company thought wrestling was more in line with what the comics audience of the day wanted to see, though.

broadwayFinally, Sue gets “discovered” by Hollywood. You’d think this would have already come up after the Fantastic Four movie of a few issues back, but that’s neither here nor there. Since Sue’s personality and background are still largely shapeless and without form, there’s not much to go on. Would she want this? What is she doing that she’d have to put on hold to be a superhero? We don’t know. I guess “aspiring actress” is as good as anything?

Well, it works. The team decides they all need a vacation, despite the police warning about the mobster convention. These opportunities are too good to pass up! Leave it to Reed to choose being a 9 to 5 wage slave as a getaway.

ProTip: Do not Google “grunt ‘n groan circuit”.

Mere moments after the FF pack and leave the Baxter Building, the next of Thinker’s predictions comes true!

meteorThe impact of the meteor completely knocks power out for the entire city. You’d think the FF would put their vacation on hold to help out, but nope.

With the heroes away and the power out, Thinker and his goons have no trouble seizing control of the Baxter Building!

seigeAha! It seems Reed’s experiment will come into play, but in entirely the wrong hands!

The Fantastic Four, unaware that their tower has been taken, go about their sort-of vacations. But all is not well in their new professions!  circus boredJohnny has grown bored with the circus act. It’s funny to see how times have changed by looking at his wall of photos – a modern version of this would be a cluttered wall of selfies and other candid shots.

sue spacegirlI want to see this movie, though I guess this will work in a pinch.

reed officeNo shit, Reed. Welcome to the rest of our lives.

thing wrasslinThey’re all dissatisfied with their new lives, which are fairly mundane compared to being super heroes and explorers.  They all come to this conclusion and head home simultaneously, but are in for a surprise when they arrive at their headquarters!

returnUnbreakable crystal has encased the Baxter Building! The Thinker introduces himself and lets them know what’s up.

challengevibra gunsThinker lets them in and then hits them with an escalating series of threats of Reed’s own design! Who knew Mr. Fantastic had such a penchant for crafting weaponry? Who is he, Tony Stark?

Some goons with Reed’s vibra-guns give them pause, but Think makes pretty short work of them.

Next, as they ascend the elevator shaft, Thinker attacks them with a gas that distorts their perceptions. Sue comes up with the solution, to use Reed’s rubbery body as a fan to disperse the gas.

gassedThey finally reach the uppermost floor of the building, where the Thinker is hiding. They are confronted with a monstrosity!

awesome andyHere I’ll pause just to examine the term android and how it might apply to Thinker’s Awesome Android. Science fiction is filled with a variety of types of robots and androids and cyborgs and other automatons, and they all have different rules and tropes surrounding them. When someone says “android” you could just as easily imagine C-3PO from Star Wars as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Pris from Blade Runner.

The earliest use of the term is from around 1730, well before the modern idea of robots. Earliest uses of it were alchemy references to homunculi or Jewish golems – artificial life made that emulated man (through very different processes – golems are crafted from lifeless matter, homunculi from human blood). Science fiction appropriated the term, but there are remnants of that original definition still in place. Typically, androids are robots that are fashioned to look human, perhaps covered in artificial skin (I imagine there’s a sci fi horror abomination where they’re covered in real skin and if not TM 2014 me).

Awesome Android owes a lot to that original version, I think. Thinker built it based on Reed’s experiments in DNA, so there’s certainly organic material there. We have no idea if there’s machinery in there, but it seems unlikely that Thinker is brilliant enough to actually improve on Reed’s experiment, creating sentient life, so I have to assume that there’s a metallic (or plastic) skeleton, right? And some kind of computer brain controlling the artificial organic skin and muscles, since we know Thinker is pretty good with computers. Visibly, the Awesome Android looks a lot more like a golem than a person. There’s no face, and it’s only vaguely proportioned like a human. Overall it strikes me much more as an old-fashioned golem, made of modern materials that included organic material, than as an artificially intelligent robot crafted to appear human in order to interact comfortably with them.

Anyway, it’s pretty good at beating up the Fantastic Four.

andy fwooshIt can emulate their powers to some extent, or at least Thing’s.

andy thingThis is a pretty common evil android ability. Amazo over at DC could copy the powers of the Justice League. The Super-Adaptoid fought the Avengers with their own abilities. Over in the pages of X-Men, the Sentinel from the future, Nimrod, didn’t exactly copy the heroes’ powers, but it could adapt to counter them. Eventually here in Fantastic Four we’ll encounter the Super-Skrull, who possesses the powers of all four of the team – he’s not a robot, but you get the idea. It’s a common trope.

andy reedI’m not really sure how Reed knows about the Awesome Android’s off switch, unless this really is totally his design and all the Thinker did was execute it. But that doesn’t make sense, because then Reed would have known exactly what it was and what its capabilities were as soon as he saw it. Or did he build an off switch into all of his primitive life forms, in case they got out of control? That seems most likely, and quite smart of Reed to do.

The Android defeated, the Four corner the Thinker for the final showdown.

thinker defeatAn anti-matter missile launcher? Holy crap, Reed, why would you even build that?  Luckily, the deadly weapons have shorted out! Reed explains:

x-factor Postman Lumpkin for the win! This was pretty clever of Reed (I guess he’s lucky that the special downstairs bell wasn’t covered in crystal) and is a good example of a smart guy actually being smart. This whole issue is actually a pretty good showcase for Reed (his acceptance of a desk job aside). We so often get stories where we’re told a smart person is smart instead of actual moments of brilliance from them.

Then again, why didn’t Reed just hit that button to begin with and save them all a lot of trouble?

endInstead of crediting Reed with simply outwitting the bad guy, the Thinker gets blamed for not taking something into account. The problem is, their explanation of what Thinker missed doesn’t make any sense. The human element is almost entirely what he does count on. For example, Thinker may have arranged for the Hollywood producer’s car to drive past that orphanage, but his prediction that Sue would find the prospect of being an actress irresistible is exactly taking into account the human element. I suppose he didn’t take an unknown human into account, and that’s what they’re giving him shit for. But, I mean, he encased the building in crystal and hypnotized the passersby into ignoring it, so I don’t know what else he could have done.

Overall, not the strongest issue. Stories about the FF fighting thugs and mobsters and other common criminals are not terribly interesting, though this one is saved by the Thinker and his Android. The Thinker gets no particular development, though that’s been pretty standard for FF villains so far, with a couple of notable exceptions (primarily Mole Man, who still stands as the most well rounded of the Four’s enemies, though Doc Doom has had some fleshing out, even if we only have part of his story so far).

Of note, I think, after Miracle Man way back in Issue 3, Thinker here is the only villain who’s had a chance to be turned over to the police rather than facing brutal vigilante justice at the hands of the coldly calculating Reed Richards, or outright dying. I don’t think he realizes how lucky he is.

The ethical dilemmas presented here with two scientists creating life or a simulacrum thereof are pretty interesting. I would presume that Reed’s intentions were much the opposite of Thinker’s, but given the revelations of how many weapons Reed has just sitting around in the lab I’m not sure I can entirely give him the benefit of the doubt. None of this is really explored, though.

The real meat of this story, though, is that the FF love their life as superhero explorers. They can no longer settle for the normal lives they might have lived, had there been no accident. Ben and Sue, in particular, have come a long way since the earlier issues in accepting this lifestyle. In honor of that, I present the pin-up featured in this month’s issue. Just about every issue has had a pin-up page, but this is the first one that features the whole team.

pin-upNext time: Doctor Doom! The Incredible Ant-Man!


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