It’s a new year, January of 1964! The first Beatles album is released in the United States! The plans for the World Trade Center are revealed! Lyndon Johnson declares war on poverty (like, a war to end poverty, not a war to lay out spikes so homeless people can’t sleep in the park)! The 24th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified (so now you can’t make people pay to vote, only make them pay for a driver’s license)! I’m sure those last two have nothing to do with the decades of concentrated reactionary efforts to dismantle the social safety net that are to come!
January 1964, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The return of the Mole Man! If you recall from my original article on Issue 1, Mole Man ended up being (to me) a far more sympathetic character than the FF. Also he was totally left behind to die! How could he be back?!
The issue begins, as so many, with an experiment in Reed’s lab.
Holy crap! Sue just dinged! Reed offers up a super-lame explanation that the radiation from his testing equipment must have given her a boost, but I choose to believe this just happened to be the first time it occurred to her that she might be able to do more, even if just on a subconscious level.
This is old news, of course, if you’re even slightly familiar with the modern Fantastic Four. Sue Storm has been using these invisible shields for years to great effect, even using them to create flying platforms. I was actually surprised it happened this early in the series; for some reason I thought her expanded powers came much later.
I am curious about the creative process and decisions that led to her power expansion. Probably they wanted to alleviate concerns that she was a useless member of the team. I haven’t felt like she’s been lacking in participation, to be honest. Her abilities aren’t flashy like the others, but she’s saved the day more often than not. But I know there’s the perception that her powers were too weak and that she wasn’t able to contribute much to the team’s adventures.
The nature of the powers has always kind of puzzled me. How do you make the jump from invisibility to force fields? Visibility is all about light, which you can certainly bend and shape, but giving it density and hardness seems like a stretch. Maybe they liked what they were doing with Marvel Girl (Jean Gray) over at the fledgling X-Men book and just kind of copied that? A sort of telekinesis imitation? I feel like if Sue had gained these powers a decade or so later she’d have ended up (unfortunately) with something more like Dazzler or Jubilee.
The experiments on Sue’s new powers are interrupted by a series of unfortunate visitors.
I love that this is something that came up. Of course the neighbors wouldn’t want you keeping rockets in the building. The bureaucracy that must be necessary to keep the FF in operation must be staggering. The CAA Reed mentions is the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the government body that was originally in charge of civilian aviation and air traffic control. The CAA was actually rolled over into the newly formed Federal Aviation Agency in 1958, several years prior to this comic, so Reed’s permits might be a little out of date. There was a weird decade or so of transition from the CAA to the Federal Aviation Agency to the Federal Aviation Administration, though, so who knows what name was on that paperwork?
In the midst of all this, Sue makes another suprising discovery — she can turn other stuff and people invisible!
Ben has some fun with his invisibility.
All these distractions and complaints are stressing Reed out. Is there a solution? He discovers a pamphlet in the mail describing a small island for sale off the coast of New Jersey.
This would not be the first superhero base that abandoned an urban locale. The Justice League had their Secret Sanctuary/Mount Justice in a cave in Rhode Island as early as 1960, and then would famously move to their orbital satellite in the ’70s. The Avengers would have various bases, including Hydrobase off the coast of New York. Will the Fantastic Four really take this real estate plunge and abandon Manhattan?
here’s a refresher on his origin from Issue 1. Long story short: he was ugly, so nobody liked him. In fact, everyone was a total asshole to him. He abandoned the surface world and discovered Monster Island, where he made his new home ruling over the creatures living there. He lost his eyesight in the journey, but the rest of his senses were ramped up, including an enhanced “radar vision.” (This predates
Daredevil by several years.)
The monsters in Issue 1 were all big, classic comic book monsters. The big guy on the cover was pretty typical. Our rookie heroes barely managed to survive the encounters, mostly by running away. Here in this issue we meet the little guys for the first time, whom later issues will come to call Moloids. They’re the standard Mole Man minions found beneath the Earth. Jonathan Hickman will do some pretty fun stuff with the Moloids in his recent FF run, including some super-intelligent ones who come to live at the Fantastic Four headquarters. There’s actually no sign in this issue of the larger beasties at all.
Captured! (Brace yourself for a lot of people falling through holes.)
Hold up, is this our first mention of Dear Aunt Petunia? I think it might be! Ben’s frequent references to his extraordinarily wise aunt will become a running gag, and I think at some point in the future she actually makes a couple of appearances.
The chamber they fall into doesn’t seem so secure, so Ben makes a break for it. Luckily Reed is paying closer attention to their surroundings.
Mole Man joins them, lounging in the exact same throne he used in Issue 1, actually, and explains that he escaped Monster Isle via a system of underground tunnels, which isn’t much of a surprise. You can’t bury a guy with dominion over a horde of tunneling creatures and expect him to stay buried.
He has a new plot! Which isn’t all that different from his old plot.
The Mole Man’s plan from Issue 1 was basically the same as this, just on a smaller scale. One of the plot points the Old Man Logan Wolverine story arc from a few years back was that Moloids were slowly devouring cities from below, just like this, though there was no machinery. They were simply tunneling under cities and dropping them down below the surface, foot by foot. It’s one of the more creepy revelations of the series (which is saying a lot).
Not one to waste time now that he has his audience, Mole Man moves to pull the trigger on his plan.
My only problem with this is that by the various rules we’ve been given regarding Sue’s powers (in this issue), she’d have to drop her field around the control trigger in order to shift it over to the team. In those precious few seconds, Mole Man should have regained access and pushed the button. I suppose we have to assume she pushed herself to the limit and managed to keep both force fields up simultaneously.
Will Reed’s plan work? Or will the radiation wall ignore Sue’s shield and vaporize our heroes?
It works, of course, and behold! Ben’s first use of “It’s clobberin’ time!” I have zero idea of what “Yay bo!” is. Maybe that was supposed to be “Yeah boy!”? That seems like a more modern turn of phrase, though.
The team wades into combat against the Mole Man’s horde of minions, who don’t stand much chance. The Mole Man isn’t done yet! A series of trap doors open, dropping each member of the team into a devious trap designed just for them!
Ben is dropped into a room full of some sort of soft, squishy quicksand. Reed finds himself surrounded by non-porous plastic walls that have no gaps for him to squeeze through. Johnny is in a room designed to extinguish his flames as soon as he ignites them. Sue is in a room full of illusions with no apparent exit. Each one of them swiftly outsmarts the traps, though, and soon find themselves wading through piles of Moloids and setting the Mole Man on the run.
Don’t be ridiculous! As he escaped from his death trap earlier, Reed came across a bank of the Mole Man’s equipment, and it was a simple matter for him to reroute the command routines. The Mole Man has sunk his own island!
There’s a problem here, though. The only way this works if he had his own island up on hydraulics similar to what he had built beneath New York and Moscow, making his island a mobile base of operations. Okay. But if that’s the case, then surely it’s designed for such a moment, and sealed appropriately? So Mole Man is safe, most of his monsters are safe, and the machinery itself should be safe. More importantly, all of the machinery beneath New York and Moscow is still in place and operational. As soon as Mole Man realizes he’s sinking the wrong location, he should be able to just swap the circuitry again and then sink the cities he actually wants to sink. This is no solution, Reed! All you’ve deprived Mole Man of is the enjoyment of actually seeing the look on your face as he destroys the surface world!
Well, for all that, I enjoyed the issue. Sue got a super cool power upgrade and Ben got his catchphrase, and the Mole Man is always a welcome sight.
We wrap this week’s installment up with some more excerpts from the letters page. We have letters from a couple of future titans of the comic book industry. This guy who super digs the X-Men’s Angel is Dave Cockrum, who would start his career in comics in the ’70s over at DC with Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. He moved over to Marvel and alongside Len Wein completely rebooted the X-Men in the now famous Giant-Size X-Men #1, which resuscitated that series and catapulted mutants to the fore of the Marvel line. Several of the characters that have gone on to become the most famous X-Men were designs he’d originally come up with for DC Legionaries. I’m not even sure where to start with Roy Thomas. Within a year or so of this letter getting published, he starts working at DC as an editorial assistant, but then immediately (like after just a few days) shifted over to Marvel as a staff writer (which I’m not sure is even a thing any more, most everyone is on contract nowadays I think). His first long stretch on a book was at the Nick Fury series we talked about last week! He would also eventually take over writing X-Men and then Avengers, and had a long run on Doctor Strange with Gene Colan that I would love to read someday. His contributions to Avengers would include the Vision, Ultron, the metal adamantium, and Ms. Marvel, among many others. He would take over the editor-in-chief position after Stan left, and secured for Marvel the Star Wars adaptation that probably saved the company from collapse in the late ’70s. His contributions to the company and the current state of pop culture really can’t be understated.
Next time: A crisis of leadership! And an old villain assembles a team of his own!