Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Timeline of the Marvel Universe (as of December 1961)

This is the last of the planned "year end" posts that I have lined up.  I'm intending to create a detailed time-line of the Marvel Universe as it stands at the end of each calendar year.  I'm using real dates, but I'm going to move them forward when necessary to accommodate Marvel's sliding timescale.  At the moment everything is anchored to 1961 and works very well.  Obviously this is another one that's going to get too big for the blog, but I'll continue posting it as long as it remains practical.

1950 ("long ago")
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #1, page 22.2 to 22.9 flashback: After being ridiculed for his ugliness, the Mole Man strikes out alone to find the land at the center of the Earth.  After traveling the globe he washes up on Monster Isle, and enters a strange cavern.  Mole Man finds the center of the Earth, but is blinded in a sudden avalanche. (The clothing being worn by characters in this flashback leads me to believe that this takes place somewhere in the post-World War 2 era.  I have chosen 1950 on a whim.)
  • Mole Man learns to sense things like a mole, and develops a radar sense. He masters the creatures below the earth, and uses them to carve out an underground empire.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #1 page 23.1 and 23.2) 

1957
  • Work begins on a memorial statue (that will be melted by a Skrull posing as the Human Torch in five years time). (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #2 page 3.2.)

1959
  • This is the latest year in which Reed Richards can begin constructing his rocket to the stars.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #1 page 9.6)

Before Fantastic Four (1961) #1 origin flashback
  • Reed Richards and Susan Storm are engaged to be married.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #1 page 9.4.)

Tuesday 4th April, 1961
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #1, page 9.1 to 13.8 flashback: Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Susan Storm and Johnny Storm fly Reed's test rocket into outer space.  They are bombarded by cosmic rays, and after landing the shuttle discover that they have all developed super-powers: Reed can stretch, Susan can turn invisible, Johnny can burst into living flame, and Ben has become a hulking monster.  They decide to aid humanity, calling themselves the Fantastic Four. (The only requirement for placing this flashback was that it had to go before Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space on April 12th. I chose the 4th day of the 4th month for my own amusement.)
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #2, page 6.8 flashback: Reed uses his stretchy arms to hail a passing plane.

July/Early August 1961 (before Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
  • Atomic plants in Australia, South America and behind the Iron Curtain are dragged beneath the earth by an unknown force.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #1 page 14.3 and 15.1) 

Tuesday August 8th, 1961
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #1, page 1.1 to 25.7: Reed Richards fires his signal flare to summon the Fantastic Four.  Susan, Johnny and Ben all make their way across the city to Reed's apartment, where he tells them about the disappearing atomic bases.  The FF track the cause of the disappearances to Monster Isle, and they confront the Mole Man and his monster hordes in his lair deep beneath the earth. The Mole Man's domain, and Monster Isle, are destroyed in an atomic explosion during the conflict, but the FF manage to fly to safety. (I have placed this story on August 8th, to match the release date of the comic.)

Between Fantastic Four (1961) #1's origin flashback and Fantastic Four (1961) #2
  • The Fantastic Four establish a number of secret apartment hideouts. (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #2 page 11.1. This probably happens between FF #1 and #2, but it's possible that it was done before they fought the Mole Man as well.) 

Before Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1
  • Henry Pym learns judo.  (Mentioned in Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1 page 6.6.)

July 1961
  • Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1, page 2.6 to 2.7 flashback: At a monthly meeting of his scientific peers, Henry Pym is mocked for his outlandish ideas. (This flashback takes place several months before Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1.)

Between Fantastic Four (1961) #1 and #2
  • The Fantastic Four become well known public figures.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #2 page 2.2.) 
  • The US military prepares special cells designed to imprison the Fantastic Four.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #2 page 8.2.)
  • The alien Skrulls, who are planning to invade Earth, learn of the Fantastic Four and decide to eliminate them.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #2 page 16.5.)

Thursday September 28th, 1961
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #2, page 1.1 to 3.6: Four Skrulls impersonate the Fantastic Four while committing acts of sabotage, theft and vandalism.
  • An order is put out by the US military that the Fantastic Four are to be shot on sight.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #2 page 4.1.)

Friday September 29th, 1961
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #2, page 4.1 to 10.7: The real Fantastic Four are laying low at a hunting lodge, but the military manages to track them down and arrest them.  The FF are placed in special holding cells, but all of them escape and fly away in a stolen helicopter.
Saturday September 30th, 1961

  • Fantastic Four (1961) #2, page 11.1 to 24.5: The FF track down and defeat the Skrull impostors. They then fly a shuttle to the Skrull mothership in Earth's orbit, masquerading as Skrulls themselves. Reed manages to trick the commander into believing that Earth's defenses are too strong to risk an invasion. The Skrull fleet retreats.  The Skrull impostors, who are still captives on Earth, promise not to cause trouble as long as they are given lives where they can be contented.

Sunday October 1st, 1961
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #2, page 24.6: The Fantastic Four leave the three Skrulls, who have been hypnotised into believing that they are cows, to graze in a pasture.

Friday October 27th, 1961
  • Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1, page 3.1 to 3.3 flashback: Henry Pym has nearly completed his newest invention, a serum that can shrink anything.  He daydreams about its possible applications.

Saturday October 28th, 1961
  • Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1, page 2.1 to 7.8: Having completed his serum, Henry Pym tests it by shrinking a chair, then returning it to its normal size.  He tests it on himself, but shrinks faster than he had expected.  He runs outside in a panic and attracts the attention of a nest of ants.  Pym runs inside the ants’ nest to hide, and is chased mercilessly by them.  A friendly ant helps him to return to his home, where he uses the enlarging serum to return to normal size.  Pym decides the serums are too dangerous, and pours them down the drain. (I have moved this story forward a month from its publication date so that it doesn't fall on the same day as Fantastic Four (1961) #2.)

December 1961
  • Tales to Astonish (1959) #27/1, page 7.9 to 7.10: At a monthly meeting of his scientific peers, Henry Pym tells them that he has abandoned his crazy ideas.  Even so, from now on he will never again knowingly step on an ant hill.

Between Fantastic Four (1961) #2 and #3
  • The Fantastic Four purchase the tower of the skyscraper that serves as their headquarters.  Reed Richards redesigns the roof so that it will work like the deck of an aircraft carrier.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #3 page 5.6. Reed presumably designs the Fantasticar and other vehicles at this time as well.) 
  • The Invisible Girl designs costumes for the Fantastic Four. (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #3 page 7.1.)

Tuesday December 12th, 1961
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #3, page 1.1 to 5.7: The Fantastic Four are in the crowd watching a stage magician called the Miracle Man.  The Miracle Man shows off his seemingly limitless powers, and uses them to humiliate the Thing.  The FF return to the Baxter Building, while the Miracle Man decides that the time has come for him to conquer the world.

Wednesday December 13th, 1961
  • The police commissioner receives a note from the Miracle Man declaring his attention to conquer the human race.  (Mentioned in Fantastic Four (1961) #3 page 8.8.)
  • Fantastic Four (1961) #3, page 6.1 to 23.7: The Miracle Man uses his power of illusion to animate a giant monster statue in order to help him steal an experimental atomic tank. The Human Torch destroys the statue, while the Invisible Girl trails the Miracle Man to his junkyard hideout. The rest of the FF arrive, and the Human Torch creates a bright flash that blinds the Miracle Man and negates his powers.  After the Thing complains that he's getting all the credit, Johnny quits the team in anger.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reading Order (as of December 1961)

As I cover each year, I intend to write an updated reading order covering the entirety of the marvel Universe to that point.  At the moment the list is small, but obviously it's going to get very large, and very unwieldy.  Eventually it will become a downloadable file, but for now I can just post it here.

  1. Fantastic Four (1961) #1 - The FF battle the Mole Man in their first mission
  2. Fantastic Four (1961) #2 - The FF stop a Skrull invasion
  3. Tales to Astonish (1959) #27 (1st story) - Henry Pym invents a shrinking serum and is trapped in an ant hill
  4. Fantastic Four (1961) #3 - The FF battle the Miracle Man

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Unanswered Questions: 1961

There are a lot of dropped plots throughout Marvel history, and many subplots that go unresolved for years or even decades. I'm planning to keep track of these unanswered questions, and do a round-up of them as I reach the end of each year.

(I'm also keeping track of characters that don't receive a real name, because a lot of those take a long time to be revealed.)

Unanswered Questions (as of December 1961)

1) What is the Mole Man's real name?
2) How is it that the Fantastic Four always have clothes that adapt to their powers?
3) What happened to the fourth Skrull impostor?
4) What is the Miracle Man's real name?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Characters Introduced in 1961

As I work my way through Marvel history, I have a number of posts planned for every time I reach the end of a year. The first of these is a list of all the characters, objects, places and other things introduced within that year.  1961 only had four comics set in the Marvel Universe, but as it's the first year there a lot of debuts.

Teams

The Fantastic Four (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)

Super-Heroes

The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Invisible Girl (Sue Storm) (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards) (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Thing (Ben Grimm) (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Henry Pym (Tales to Astonish (1959) #27)

Super-Villains

The Mole Man (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Miracle Man (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)

Aliens/Races

The Skrulls (Fantastic Four (1961) #2)

Creatures

Giganto (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Stone Monster of Monster Isle (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Tricephalous (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The "Monster From Mars" (really just a statue) (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)

Minor Characters

Central City Police Chief (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Lt. General Fredericks (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)

Locations

Central City (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Monster Isle (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Subterranea (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Valley of Diamonds (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Henry Pym's House and Laboratory (Tales to Astonish (1959) #27)
The Baxter Building (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)

Objects & Things

Cosmic Rays (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Fantasti-Flare (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
The Pocket Rocket (Fantastic Four (1961) #1)
Pym Particles (in the form of Pym's size-changing serums) (Tales to Astonish (1959) #27)
The Daily Bugle (Fantastic Four (1961) #2)
The Daily Globe (Fantastic Four (1961) #2)
The Fantasticar (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)
The Fantasti-copter (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)
The FF's Long-Range Passenger Missile (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)
The Pogo Plane (Fantastic Four (1961) #3)

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Fantastic Four (1961) #3


Cover Date March 1962
On-Sale Date 12 December 1961
Cover Price 0.12 US
Pages 32 (23 story pages, 1 pin-up & 1 letters page)

Cover Credits
Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Sol Brodsky. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Script: Unknown, but probably Stan Lee. Letters: Artie Simek

Story Titles
Chapter 1: The Menace of the Miracle Man (5 pages)
Chapter II: "The Monster Lives!" (5 pages)
Chapter III: "The Flame That Died!" (3 pages)
Chapter IV: "In the Shadow of Defeat!" (5 pages)
Chapter V: "The Final Challenge!" (5 pages)

Story Credits
Script: Stan Lee. Pencils: Jack Kirby (w/ Sol Brodsky). Inks: Sol Brodsky. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Letters: Artie Simek.
  Superfan Nick Caputo (whose blog can be found here) has claimed that Sol Brodsky made alterations to the Human Torch throughout this issue.

Plot Summary
The Fantastic Four are humiliated by a stage magician called the Miracle Man, who is apparently all-powerful.  The Miracle Man declares war on the human race, and begins by stealing a top secret atomic tank from the US government. He is stopped by the Human Torch, who blinds him with a burst of flame, and it is revealed that the Miracle Man was nothing more than a clever hypnotist. After the battle the Torch and the Thing argue, causing the Torch to angrily quit the team.

Flashback 1
Once again the FF have an extended reminiscence about their origin, with no new information to impart.

Pin-Up
This issue has a full-page pin-up of the Human Torch flying high over the Earth, with an inset showing his head when it's not on fire.  This pin-up was pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by Sol Brodsky, coloured by Stan Goldberg, and lettered by Artie Simek.


Letters Page
Alan Weiss wants to know who the artist of Fantastic Four is (these being the days before creator credits were the norm).  Rick Wood enjoys the character conflicts, but hates the cover of issue #1, and the name Mister Fantastic. An anonymous writer is annoyed that someone as attractive as Sue Storm is always turning invisible. George Paul read the first issue over fifty times, because kids have too much time on their hands.  Bill Sarill thinks that Jack Kirby is capable of better, and wants the Thing to be able to change forms at will. And a suspicious fellow named S. Brodsky plugs nearly every other comic that Marvel publishes. (The letters page ends with the editor praising the literacy and intelligence of Marvel's letter-writers, which is a drum that Stan Lee will be banging for a long time to come.)

CHARACTERS APPEARING

HEROES

The Fantastic Four
The team have expanded their operations considerably since Fantastic Four (1961) #2. Not only have they established a headquarters in the Baxter Building, they've also developed a host of vehicles and scientific resources to aid in their crime-fighting efforts, and Sue has made them uniforms. Although the FF are celebrities at this point, the location of their headquarters remains a secret.

Mister Fantastic (aka Dr. Reed Richards)
Reed's paranoid streak is on full display in this story. His concern over the possibility of the Miracle Man turning against humanity is warranted, given the Miracle Man's apparent power level. His concern that Johnny might turn against humanity is perhaps taking things a little too far.
  Reed's confidence is shaken when he is defeated by the Miracle Man, but he quickly regains his composure after some stern words from the local police commissioner.
  He is the first of the FF to figure out that the Miracle Man is merely a hypnotist, although he doesn't do so in time to provide any help in defeating him. Once the Miracle Man's powers are gone, Reed is confident in handing him over to the police.  He restrains the Thing from killing the Miracle Man, though later he uses Ben as a threat if the Miracle Man doesn't release Sue from her hypnotism (he's probably bluffing).
  When Sue goes after the Miracle Man on her own, Reed is content to wait for her signal (although he does indicate that the Miracle Man will be in big trouble if he has harmed her). He seems genuinely impressed and pleased by Sue's costume designs. Reed and Sue's relationship is touched on briefly when Ben displays his jealousy of Reed.
  When reminiscing about the team's origin, Reed says that "fate has been good to them", as they've been able to use their powers to fight evil and injustice. When the Thing reacts bitterly, Reed reminds Ben that he has previously reverted to his human form, and may be able to do so again for a longer time. (This is the first inkling of a subplot that will run through the title for decades: Reed's attempts to cure Ben.)
  Once again, Reed is shown smoking a pipe.
  Powers and Skills: Reed is able to stretch his body across a street from one building to another several times, enabling him to entangle the Miracle Man's monster. (Or so it seems, the monster is almost certainly an illusion.)
  Surprisingly, Reed is downed by a single brick thrown by the Miracle Man. It seems as though he can be conventionally injured despite his powers. He's also concerned about being hit by bullets from the Miracle Man's machine gun, and transforms into a bouncing rubber ball to avoid them. (In later issues he will be able to repel bullets, but at this point he hasn't shown that yet, and perhaps doesn't know that he can do so.)
  Reed is able to shape his body to replace the tire of an antique race car, but the experience is uncomfortable enough that he can't do so for long.
  Again, Reed shows that he is super strong when stretching, as he is able to restrain the Thing and pull him off his feet.
  Reed designed the roof of the Baxter Building to work like the deck of an aircraft carrier, and the implication is that he designed the majority of the vehicles, gadgets and rooms in their headquarters. He is able to drive an antique race car, and pilot the Fantasticar.


The Invisible Girl (aka Susan "Sue" Storm)
Sue's biggest contribution in this story is the stereotypically feminine task of costume design. Her motivation for doing so is that the team should look like a team. While the costumes are good ones, her decision to give the Thing a helmet is perhaps a touch cruel. Her comment that "this even makes you look glamorous" isn't helping matters.
  Sue sits out of the battle between the Human Torch, the Thing and the Miracle Man's monster, but she shows some bravery and initiative by stowing away with the Miracle Man when he makes his escape. Her plan to alert the rest of the team rather than tackle the Miracle Man on her own is a sound one. It's a shame that she's easily captured, and spends the rest of the story as a passive hostage.
  Sue's relationship to Reed is briefly touched on, and her recognition that his silence after meeting the Miracle Man could be important shows that she understands him well. Her statement that "only Reed" could have designed the roof of the Baxter Building verges a little on hero worship, however.
  Early in the story Sue jokes about nursemaiding the team's male members, but later on she can't stand the bickering between the Thing and the Torch. When Johnny quits the team she begs him to come back, and worries what will become of him.
  Powers and Skills: Sue's invisibility comes in handy for stowing away in the back of the Miracle Man's atomic tank, but it doesn't help to mask her scent from the Miracle Man's dog.
  Sue is easily hypnotised by the Miracle Man, obeying his commands and remaining in a passive trance until he releases her with a snap of his finger. Nobody else is hypnotised in this story, so with nothing to compare to it's not clear if she's any more susceptible to hypnotism than her teammates.
  Sue shows some talent for costume design, and though it's not stated it's possible that she sewed the costumes herself. She is also shown piloting a section of the Fantasticar.


The Human Torch (aka Johnny Storm)
The Torch's rivalry with the Thing comes to a head in this issue. Johnny scoffs at the idea that Sue could ever fall for Ben, which causes the Thing to lash out. Johnny retaliates with his flame, but when the Thing complains that it's unfair Johnny leaves angrily. This is the first time that the two fight, however briefly, and there's a sense of genuine animosity about it.
  This culminates at the end of the story, after the Torch has defeated the Miracle Man. The Thing grumbles about the Torch getting all of the credit, and the Torch then quits the team. He says that it's because he's "had all the bossin' around he can take", but it's likely that the Thing is the real cause.
  Johnny is the MVP of the team in this story, for certain. Not only does he single-handedly take care of the Miracle Man's monster (even if it is illusory), he also defeats the Miracle Man by blinding him, and does both with no fear or hesitation.
  After Johnny's fight with the Thing he goes to sulk with his friends at a soda fountain.  These friends are probably not any that have been seen before, as this is the first FF story set in New York.
  Johnny shows concern for his sister, questioning why the others allowed her to tackle the Miracle Man alone, and rushing off to save her as soon as he sees her signal flare. Despite this concern, when chasing the Miracle Man to rescue Sue he opts to ride with Reed and Ben in an antique racecar rather than fly ahead "because it's more fun". Tell it to your dead sister, Johnny.
  Powers and Skills: Johnny's flame is apparently hot enough to destroy an animated giant monster statue made of wood and plaster.  (What actually happens in this scene is unclear, because the story keeps changing its mind about what the Miracle Man's powers are. It doesn't really matter, though, because we've already seen Johnny melt steel in previous issues.)
  A blast of chemical foam is enough to extinguish Johnny's flame.
  Johnny defeats the Miracle Man by increasing his flame until it becomes a blazing flash that is bright enough to blind him temporarily. It doesn't blind anyone else present, but it's possible that they weren't looking directly at him. In Fantastic Four (1961) #138 Johnny says that this was the first ever use of his nova flame, but that could be chalked up to his faulty memory.
  If the pin-up in this issue is to be believed, Johnny can remain in his flaming form at an incredibly high altitude. Again it's said that he flies because his flaming body is lighter than air.  He can fly faster than an antique racecar. (A similar racecar in the real world - the 1909 Alco Black Beast - had a top speed of around 100 mph, so presumably Johnny is faster than that.)


The Thing (aka Ben Grimm)
Once again the Thing is in a bad mood, and most of his ill-temper is aimed towards the Human Torch. Ben is ready with a put-down almost every time that Johnny says something, and even attacks him physically when Johnny makes a put-down of his own. His complaints about Johnny taking all of the credit for defeating the Miracle Man are the final straw that causes the Torch to quit the team. (One wonders if Ben's frustrations are exacerbated by his inability to accomplish a single thing in this story. He's even less useful than Sue, which is saying something in the 1960s.)
  The Miracle Man's initial mockery of the Fantastic Four sends the Thing into a rage, as does his subsequent defeat and humiliation in the log-chopping contest. He is eager to get his hands on the Miracle Man throughout the story, but when he does so he is instantly restrained by Reed. The Thing shows a consistent disbelief that the Miracle Man can be as powerful as he seems; it turns out that he's right, but it probably had more to do with the Thing's outrage at being defeated than any insight on his part.
  He is almost completely covered in a coat, scarf and sunglasses when the team are out in public, and he doesn't want the spotlight on him, though he's quick to take these clothes off when it's time to show off his strength. When Sue presents him with a uniform he dismisses it as kid's stuff, and says that he's "not going to wear that fool outfit".  He does wear it for a short while, but as soon as it's time to go into action he takes off the helmet and the top.  He's seen wearing the top later, but not the helmet.
  The Thing's blackest mood in the story comes after he narrates an origin flashback, which he describes as "that accursed day". He lapses into self-pity, describing himself as an "ugly, gruesome thing".  When Reed reminds him that has reverted back to his human form temporarily, he angrily cries that he wants to be Ben Grimm permanently, and also that he wants Sue to look at him the way she looks at Reed. (It's Johnny's mockery of this that causes him to lash out. This is another indication that Ben is in love with Sue, a subplot that will be dropped very shortly.)
  Powers and Skills: As usual, the Thing's super-strength and durability are on display. It takes him three double-handed strikes to split a log of approximately three feet diameter, and he punches through a wall (probably made of plaster). His hide is strong enough to withstand machine gun fire, though the bullets leave him staggered. (I told you he doesn't accomplish much in this issue.)
  He's also seen flying a section of the Fantasticar, and possibly the Fantasticopter. (It's either him or Reed, but the image is too small to tell.)


VILLAINS

The Miracle Man (1st appearance)
The Miracle Man (who is given no other name in this story) works as a stage magician, and this gives him a showmanship that he carries into his career as a villain. He doesn't just embark on a plan to conquer the Earth, he begins by sending a letter to the police telling them that this is his goal. His first villainous act is to (apparently) animate a statue outside a movie theatre, in view of a huge crowd of people and a television audience.
  As a magician, the Miracle Man is quick to point out that the Fantastic Four are in his crowd, and he demonstrates a large variety of powers (all illusory of course) to prove his superiority. He's smug through the whole scene, and seems to take particular delight in mocking the Thing.
  As mentioned above, the Miracle Man's goal is to conquer the Earth, and he is embarking on it now that he has "demonstrated his powers to the world". His plan involves animating a giant statue to help him steal a new atomic tank from the US military, though what he's going to do with the tank besides hiding it under some wrecked cars is never explained. He may be planning to use it himself during his conquest, or perhaps he plans to sell it to some foreign powers, but whatever the plan is the Miracle Man never says.
  The Miracle Man has his hideout in an auto junkyard, and owns a dog.
  Background: The Miracle Man's background is pretty much a blank slate. He appears to be middle-aged (perhaps in his mid-40s), and has worked as a stage magician.  How and when he developed his skill as a hypnotist is never explained.
  Powers and Skills: The Miracle Man is presented as all-powerful, but in actuality he is nothing more than a hypnotist (albeit a very good one). He displays the following powers, all of which are illusory: levitation, growing to giant size, transforming his body into gas, hurling lightning, splitting a large log with one swipe of a finger, shrugging off a punch from the Thing, bringing a monster statue to life, making said monster disappear, causing the ground to open up and swallow the Thing, and turning a giant key into a machine gun.  None of these are his actual powers, they are all just illusions.  (I'm not sure that Stan and Jack were aware of that through the whole story, though. There are some clues through the story to hint at the true nature of the Miracle Man's power, but the whole business with the statue really does read like it's actually happening. How does the Miracle Man steal the tank if it's not carried off by the monster?)
  Despite not being all-powerful, the Miracle Man's hypnotism is strong in its own right.  It can affect hundreds of people at a time (at least), over a very large distance. Pretty much everyone in the city seems to be affected by the Miracle Man's illusion of the monster statue coming to life, regardless of whether he's there or not.
  Oddly, the Miracle Man's power of illusion works through the television.  (Perhaps, if we're feeling generous, we could chalk it up to the lingering effects of a prior hypnosis. It may be that, once the Miracle Man has affected someone with an illusion, they will always be susceptible to his illusions whether he's nearby or not.)
  The Miracle Man loses all of his powers after he's blinded, so it's possible that he needs to make eye contact with his victims to hypnotise them.
  In addition to the ability to create illusions, the Miracle Man can put his victims into a trance and force them to obey his commands. This seems to require eye contact, and takes longer to enact than his illusion-casting power (which seemingly requires little or no eye contact at all, and takes effect almost instantaneously). Sue Storm offers no resistance to his commands while in this state, and is released when the Miracle Man snaps his fingers.
  The Miracle Man can perform as a stage magician (although he may have no actual skills, and simply rely on his powers). He knows how to fire a machine gun, seems familiar with the behaviour of dogs, and can drive an atomic tank with little difficulty.
 

The Monster From Mars (1st appearance)
The "Monster from Mars" is nothing more than a statue of wood and plaster put on display outside the Bijou Theatre to promote the movie of the same name.  (As far as IMDB is concerned, there's never been a movie with this title.)  The Miracle Man supposedly animates the statue and sends it on a rampage through New York, until it is destroyed by the Human Torch. Given the nature of the Miracle Man's powers, however, the statue was probably never animated, and the entire rampage was an elaborate hypnotic illusion.


MINOR CHARACTERS

Lt. General Fredericks (1st appearance)
Fredericks isn't named in this story: he's the general with the white moustache who stops his troops from shooting the Human Torch. He's in charge of the ordnance depot that houses the atomic tank. (Fredericks isn't named until X-Men (1963) #23, and his appearance in Fantastic Four (1961) #3 is later attributed to him in Official Marvel Index to the Fantastic Four (1985) #1. He looks almost exactly like General Thunderbolt Ross (the Hulk supporting character), but Ross is stationed mostly in New Mexico. Pretty much any appearance of a white-moustached general operating in the north-eastern USA will be retconned as Fredericks.)


Johnny's Friends (1st appearance)
Johnny has three friends (none of whom are named) who hang out with him at the soda fountain when he is sulking about his fight with the Thing. They keep pestering Johnny to let them join the Fantastic Four (and seem serious about it, despite their lack of powers). They know that Johnny Storm is the Human Torch, and Johnny knows that they know. (This will become relevant when Johnny thinks he has a secret identity during his run in Strange Tales.)


New York Police Commissioner #1 (1st appearance)
The police commissioner is seen reading the Miracle Man's declaration of war on the human race, and authorising the Fantastic Four to bring him in. He later berates Reed for his inability to capture the villain.  (I've no doubt that the NY police commissioner will appear frequently, and with little consistency of demeanor and appearance. I'll try to keep track of them as best I can. At the time of publication, the real world commissioner was Michael J. Murphy, who is somewhat balding and described as "stern". He doesn't exactly resemble the one from the comic, but there are enough similarities to entertain the possibility that Kirby was drawing from real life..)


Others: The Miracle Man's female assistant, the crowd at the Miracle Man's show, citizens of Manhattan, police (one named Joe), jewelry store guards, US military, the Miracle Man's dog, a soda jerk

LOCATIONS

The Baxter Building (1st appearance)
The FF have established their headquarter in the tower of the Baxter Building since last issue. The building isn't named in this issue, and won't be until Fantastic Four (1961) #6. At this point, their headquarter is a secret (though how long they expect it to remain that way with all of the rockets and such is a mystery).  The FF own the entire tower of the building. 
  Their headquarter contains a number of high-tech rooms and laboratories. On the roof is an observatory, and a landing pad for the Fantasticar that functions like the deck of an aircraft carrier. The top floor has a photo analysis room, as well as hangars for the Fantasticar, the Fantasticopter and the Pogo Plane. The floor below that has a giant map room, a conference room, a projection room, and a monitoring room and ready room for their long-range passenger missile. On the floors below that there are laboratories and living quarters. (From the outside, it appears that the FF own five floors in total.) There's also a hidden elevator, and the launch pad for the passenger missile, which is shielded from the rest of the building by an anti-vibration wall.  The layout is shown in a cutaway diagram below:


Reed designed the landing pad for the Fantasticar, and presumably designed the rest of their headquarters as well.

Manhattan, New York City (1st appearance, probably)
The city is never named in this story, but next issue will confirm that the Baxter Building is situated in New York City. (Whether it's the first appearance of Manhattan depends on the location of Henry Pym's lab in Tales to Astonish (1959) #27; if it's in the same house from Tales to Astonish #50, then that story took place in New Jersey.)

Bijou Theatre (1st appearance)
This theatre is hosting the world premiere of "The Monster From Mars", complete with a giant statue of the eponymous monster.
  In the real world there have been two Bijou Theatres in Manhattan. The first was opened in 1878 and named the Bijou in 1883. It mostly featured plays and operas, until later becoming a silent movie house. It was torn down in 1915.
  The second was built in 1917, and also mostly featured plays. It became a CBS radio station in 1951, but was reinstated as the Bijou in 1965 (several years after the release of this issue) until it was demolished in 1982. If Kirby had a specific theatre in mind, it was probably this one, even though it didn't exist at the time he was drawing the comic. For whatever reason, in the Marvel Universe it probably didn't become a radio station in 1951, and stayed in business as the Bijou until at least late 1961, becoming a reputed movie theatre along the way.

OBJECTS

FF Costumes (1st appearance)
Obviously I won't be including costumes in the list of Objects for every comic, but the first appearance of the uniforms of the Fantastic Four merits a special mention. They were designed in secret by Sue, as she believes that the FF should look like a team. They're also resistant and able to adapt to their wearer's super-powers: Reed's costume stretches with him, Sue's turns invisible when she does, and Johnny's survives him flaming on. (This is explained by the fabric being composed of "unstable molecules", which are introduced in Fantastic Four (1961) #6 as a catch-all excuse for the way super-hero costumes have always worked.)

Fantasti-Flare (not yet named as such)
Sue, while under the Miracle Man's hypnotic command, fires her flare to summon the rest of the FF into a trap.


Fantasticar (1st appearance)
The Fantasticar, which famously bears a resemblance to a flying bathtub, is large enough to seat all four members of the FF. It is described as air-powered, which is consistent with the four fans that can be seen on the bottom of the craft. It has a pair of headlights on the front for illumination at night.  Reed is shown piloting the Fantasticar by manipulating two joysticks on the control panel, but the craft can also be set to automatic (and lands on the roof of the Baxter Building while in this mode). It can also be set to hover in the air, and will stay there even without a pilot.. The Fantasticar has its own hangar in the Baxter Building, which is accessed from the roof by a lift that functions much like the deck of an aircraft carrier.
  The Fantasticar is able to split into four smaller craft, each one to be piloted by a member of the FF. Presumably each section has a control panel of its own (and given that it's the Thing who sets the Fantasticar to automatic while Reed is piloting, it's probable that each control panel has access to all of the ship's functions). The separate pieces can hover, but it's not shown whether they can be set to autopilot when not joined together.


Fantasti-copter (1st appearance)
The Fantasti-copter has its own hangar in the Baxter Building, presumably with a similar access lift to that of the Fantasticar.  Reed and Ben use the Fantasti-copter when they are on their way to rescue Sue from the Miracle Man. (I wonder, does this make the Fantasti-copter faster than the Fantasticar? One would think that Reed would choose the fastest vehicle available to go to Sue's aid.)

Pogo Plane (1st appearance)
The Pogo Plane is shown in its own hangar in the cutaway diagram of the Baxter Building, but it plays no further part in this story.

Long-Range Passenger Missile (1st appearance)
The FF have a genuine passenger missile in their headquarters in the heart of Manhattan, which raises all sorts of questions (mostly about permits and airspace violations). It can apparently reach any part of the world in minutes. The launch pad and shaft are separated from the rest of the Baxter Building by a thick anti-vibration wall. (Could this be an early appearance by Vibranium? Given the secrecy surrounding Wakanda in its earliest appearances it seems doubtful.) The rocket and Pogo Plane are pictured above, in the diagram of the Baxter Building.

Atomic Tank (1st appearance)
This new weapon was stationed at an army ordnance depot in Manhattan until the Miracle Man stole it. It's presumably not all that complicated to control, as the Miracle Man is able to drive it with no problems. Aside from the twin barrels at the front, the tank has at least one smaller gun at the rear.  It can reach a comparable speed to that of an antique racecar (around 100mph as I mentioned in Johnny's entry above; it could be argued that the car would be slower as it's been sitting in a junkyard, but according to Reed the racecars are simply stored there between exhibitions, so it should be in working order).  Whatever it is that makes the tank atomic isn't specified.  It could be an atomic-powered engine, or it could be that it fires atomic shells, or it could be something else entirely, but it remains a mystery.


WHO'D WIN?

 The Miracle Man proves time and time again that his powers of hypnosis, along with some genuine resourcefulness, make him more than a match for the Fantastic Four.  He's eventually beaten and blinded by Johnny's flare, which removes his powers, but that was pure dumb luck on Johnny's part.  One gets the sense, however, that once the true nature of the Miracle Man's powers is exposed the FF would be able to defeat him with little difficulty.

CHRONOLOGY

The story takes place over the course of two days, an unspecified period of time after issue #2.  Presumably it's been a significant amount of time (months perhaps), as during that period the FF set up their new headquarters.

CONNECTIONS & RETCONS

The flashback to this story in Fantastic Four (1961) #138, as narrated by Johnny Storm, bears a minimal resemblance to the story as published. Most notably, Johnny conflates his battle with the monster with the final confrontation against the Miracle Man, and also says that his blinding flash was the first ever use of his nova flame.  It's possible, but what's more likely is that Johnny (and perhaps Gerry Conway) forgot the details of one of his earliest adventures.
  The Baxter Building has a considerable amount of retconned history. It briefly served as the headquarters of the All-Winners Squad in the 1950s, according to All-Winners Comics 70th Anniversary Special (2009) #1.  In Marvel: The Lost Generation (2000) #11, a vampire named Nocturne destroyed the top seven floors of the building, which were then later rebuilt as the HQ of the FF. The US military liaison for the FF suggested the Baxter Building as their HQ (as shown in Fantastic Four: First Family (2006) #3, and their HQ was designed and built by Reed Richards and Noah Baxter, a former teacher of Reed's and the owner of the Baxter Building (as revealed in Fantastic Four (1998) #38).

FIRSTS

This is the first appearance of the Miracle Man, who is a minor footnote of a villain at best.  He doesn't reappear for over a decade (in Fantastic Four (1961) #138), then he barely appears after that until he's killed off in the early 1980s by the Scourge of the Underworld (in Thing (1983) #24).  He was recently resurrected in Punisher (2009) #5 along with a load of other villains, but one wonders why. There's a sense that even Lee and Kirby knew that this guy wasn't particularly great.
  It's the first time that the Miracle Man has met any members of the Fantastic Four. Surprisingly, it isn't the last.
  The Baxter Building makes it's debut here, and will serve as the headquarters of the FF and an iconic fixture of Marvel's New York until the mid-1980s when it is launched into space and blown up by Kristoff Vernard (in Fantastic Four (1961) #278).  Nostalgia will eventually kick in, as it always does in comics, and 2001 saw the Baxter Building reinstated as the HQ of the team (in Fantastic Four (1998) #38).  It's remained that way ever since.
  The FF uniforms that are introduced in this story remain largely unchanged until the mid-1980s (and Fantastic Four (1961) #256).  Even after the original suits are gotten rid off, their design remains the basis for most of the FF costumes that follow.  The Thing's helmet is the only element that isn't carried forward, and even that resurfaces again in Fantastic Four (1961) #375, when the Thing starts using it to cover his face after it is injured by Wolverine.
  Four of the FF's vehicles make their debuts here: the Fantasticar, the Pogo Plane, the Fantasticopter and the Intercontinental Passenger Missile.  There's no doubt that the Fantasticar is the most iconic of these, as variations of it have served as the primary transportation for the team throughout their history.  The "flying bathtub" version seen here was phased out as early as Fantastic Four (1961) #12, and didn't reappear for nearly twenty years (in Fantastic Four (1961) #233), but despite that long hiatus it's the version that most people identify. The Pogo Plane is used far less frequently than the Fantasticar, and the Fantasticopter and Passenger Missile will be seen even less than that.
  In the real world, this issue sees the debut of the letters page, named here as the 'Fantastic 4 Fan Page'.
  It also sees the introduction of the tagline that will grace most FF covers in the future, or at least something resembling it: "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!".  The finalised version - "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" - will appear on the cover next issue.
  This is the first Marvel super-hero comic to be priced at 12 cents. It's the first price rise, and far from the last.

SIGN O' THE TIMES

At one point Johnny says that Sue wouldn't go for the Thing "even if he looked like Rock Hudson". Hudson was a leading Hollywood actor in the 1950s and 60s, most notably in comedies with Doris Day. He was referred to as the "Baron of Beefcake", and was considered one of the most handsome men of his day. 
  Reed compliments Sue's costume designs by asking if she's ever considered working for Dior. Christian Dior was a French fashion designer, and his firm would have been one of the leaders in the field at the time. That a science nerd like Reed knows about him is a testament to how famous he must have been. 

THINGS THAT MAKE NO SENSE

The depiction of the Miracle Man's powers could be a whole entry unto itself, but I'll keep it to the two most egregious examples.  The first is that his hypnotism apparently functions through the television: Johnny is watching the movie premiere where the Miracle Man strikes, and sees him bring the monster statue to life. As usually depicted, hypnotism requires eye contact, or at the very least to be in the presence of the hypnotist. Certainly it doesn't extend to the alteration of TV signals.  As I've theorised above, it's possible that the Miracle Man maintains a long-term psychic hold over his victims, or perhaps his hypnotism is a blanket field that extends to a great distance.  However he does it, it's apparent that his power is stronger than the average hypnotist.
  The other bit of nonsense pertaining to the Miracle Man is his animation of the Monster From Mars statue.  Obviously it's an illusion, but the story doesn't depict it that way at all. Everything from the monster's rampage to it's theft of the atomic tank to it's battle with Johnny are shown as though really happening.  It's not difficult to come up with explanations for these event based on the Miracle Man's hypnotism, but it's unusual that the story didn't spell it out somewhere, as 1960s comics usually do.
  I won't make a habit of pointing out minor art errors, but Johnny has two left hands on the cover.

IS THIS ONE IMPORTANT?

I suppose that depends on how important the costumes, vehicles and other paraphernalia of the FF are to you.  The Miracle Man is a throwaway villain, and none of the character beats are anything that haven't been established in previous issues.  The most significant thing about this issue is that it's the first one that really looks like a Fantastic Four comic.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

The comic gains much of its identity in this issue, taking on many of the superhero tropes that it had formerly eschewed. It's a shame that it happens in such a lackluster story. The Miracle Man is a tedious villain, with ill-defined powers and the most hackneyed motivation possible.  Even the Mole Man had a backstory, but the Miracle Man fails to provide even that.
  At least the art is good, with Kirby settling on a definite look for all four principle characters. The Thing has become less lumpy, and the Torch looks more humanoid and less like a vaguely man-shaped flame. Together with the introduction of the costumes, headquarters and vehicles, this makes for a massive step forward in the visual identity of the book.

BEHIND THE SCENES

  • Kirby pencilled a cover for this issue that went unused. It was later printed in Fantastic Four (1961) #224

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tales to Astonish (1959) #27


Cover Date January 1962
On-Sale Date 28 September 1961
Cover Price $0.10 US
Pages 32 (23 comic story pages, 2 text story pages)

Cover Credits
Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Dick Ayers. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Script: Stan Lee. Letters: Artie Simek.

Story Title
The Man in the Ant Hill! (7 pages)

Story Credits
Plot: Stan Lee. Script: Larry Lieber. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Dick Ayers. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Letters: Artie Simek.

Plot Summary
Scientist Henry Pym, after being mocked by his peers for his outlandish ideas, invents a serum that can shrink objects and decides to test it on himself.  He shrinks faster than he had expected, and after a panicked flight he finds himself trapped inside an ant hill.  It is only with the help of a friendly ant that he is able to make it back to his lab and use the antidote to return to normal size.  He flushes his serums down the drain and vows to only pursue practical projects from now on.

Flashback 1
At a science convention several months before the main story, Henry Pym is mocked by his peers for his ridiculous, impractical theories.  He vows to become a greater scientist than any of them, and begins work on a shrinking serum.

Other Stories
Tales of Suspense is an anthology, and contains several other stories that have no bearing on the Marvel Universe (even though most of them could easily fit within Marvel continuity).
  • Mirror Mirror, On the Wall... (7 pages; Larry Lieber/Don Heck; a housewife falls under the sway of the necromancer inside her mirror)
  • The Talking Horse (5 pages; Larry Lieber/Bob Forgione; a crooked jockey gets into all sorts of trouble when he meets a talking racehorse)
  • Dead Planet! (5 pages; Stan Lee/Steve Ditko; an alien warrior dies of loneliness on a planet where he can find no-one to conquer, not realising that the planet is home to a race of sentient rocks)
  • Trouble Bubble (2 text pages; reprinted from Journey Into Unknown Worlds (1950) #49; writer unknown; a boy invents a formula for creating unbreakable bubbles, and traps his father's boss inside one by accident)

House Ads
The final page of "The Talking Horse" has ad copy running along the bottom, and reads as follows: "You've never read a comic like "The Fantastic Four"! Get your spine-tingling copy today!"  There's a similar ad for Amazing Adult Fantasy elsewhere in the issue.

CHARACTERS APPEARING

HEROES
 
Henry Pym (1st appearance)
From the outset, Henry Pym is a conflicted character.  He only wants to use his scientific abilities on projects that appeal to his imagination, despite the mockery of his peers.  He claims that he wants to use his shrinking serum for the good of mankind (although he probably means the USA given that he fantasizes about transporting shrunken armies), but he also openly declares that his motivation is to become a better scientist than those who ridiculed him.  He's never outright villainous, but there are a number of panels that depict him with in ways that Kirby would typically use for bad guys.
  Upon finishing the serum, Pym displays some prudence by first testing it on a chair.  Said prudence is cast aside when he tests it on himself immediately thereafter.  The experience of shrinking throws him into a panic, but he proves to be incredibly resourceful once he has gathered his wits.
  After regaining his normal size he destroys his serums, claiming that they're too dangerous to be used again.  He also returns to his fellow scientists to admit that they were right, and that he plans to stick to practical projects from now on.  Pym displays remarkable compassion towards the ants, vowing to never knowingly step on an ant-hill for the sake of the lone ant that saved his life.
  Background: Pym has studied science in the past (presumably involving some sort of chemistry), and has learned the martial art of judo.  He has established a reputation in his local scientific community for impractical theories that never work.
  Powers and Skills: Pym displays remarkable scientific skill, particularly in the field of chemistry.  His judo skills are sufficient that he is able to flip an ant that is larger than himself.


Friendly Ant (1st appearance)
This ant saves Henry Pym from a pool of honey, and also helps him climb the wall to reach his laboratory window.  The ant is intelligent enough to understand Pym's basic gestures, but it's motives for helping him are unknown and inscrutable.


VILLAINS

Hostile Ants (1st appearance)
These ants live in Henry Pym's backyard.  All but one of them are hostile to the tiny human invading the vicinity of their ant hill, and they pursue him relentlessly.  Their nest has an area that contains honey, which they store for food.  (Honey ants are a thing in the real world, but they store their honey in their abdomens rather than in large pools in their nest.  In a world where men can shrink down to ant-size, however, this is a difference that shouldn't be all that hard to accept.)  They are afraid of fire, and susceptible to judo.


MINOR CHARACTERS

Henry Pym's Scientific Peers

LOCATIONS

Henry Pym's House and Laboratory (1st appearance)
Henry Pym's house has a scientific laboratory with a window and door that open into a grassy backyard (populated by ants, of course).  The house appears to be made of bricks.

OBJECTS

Size-Changing Serums (1st appearance)
Henry Pym invents these two serums for the first time: one to shrink objects, and an antidote to return them to their normal size.  The serums work on a wooden chair, and on Pym himself.  Pym fantasizes about using them to shrink food, and an army.  Although the serums are only shown to affect organic matter in the story proper (unless Pym's clothes can be counted as inorganic), Pym seems to believe that they'll work on just about anything.  (They don't work on Pym's test tubes or his sink, though.)  A few drops of the shrinking serum are enough to reduce Pym to the size of an ant.  The antidote restores him to his regular size, but is not shown to be able to grow an object past that point.
  Both serums are destroyed at the end of the story, but Pym will recreate them between this story and Tales to Astonish (1959) #35.



Pym Particles (not yet named) (1st appearance)
These special particles are the key to Henry Pym's size-changing powers, and as such they make their first uncredited appearance here.

WHO'D WIN?

In a one-on-one contest, man vs. ant, Pym proves that his power of judo is enough to win out.  Against multiple ants, he runs away, recognizing that he would have little chance of survival.

CHRONOLOGY

The main story happens an unspecified amount of time before Pym becomes Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish (1959) #35, naturally.  Flashback 1 takes place months before the main story begins.

CONTINUITY

This story doesn't have any links to later stories, aside from being the first appearance of Henry Pym and his Pym Particles.

FIRSTS

It's the first appearance of Henry Pym, though as a mad scientist rather than a super-hero. Pym will later adopt a whole slew of super-heroic identities, the most significant of which are Ant-Man, Giant-Man and Yellowjacket.  (At the time of writing, he's had five different identities, having been Goliath and the Wasp in addition to the previously named three.  He also had a recent stint as Ultron, apparently)  Even though he never had much success as a solo star, as a founding member of the Avengers he's been an integral part of the Marvel Universe for decades.
  Pym Particles also make their debut here, although they're not named in this issue.  These are the particles that grant Pym his size-changing powers, and here they are represented by a shrinking serum and its antidote.  Pym will use them extensively in his super-hero career, as will his partner the Wasp, and a bunch of other heroes and villains.

THINGS THAT MAKE NO SENSE

Pym is  incredibly careless in testing the shrinking serum on himself, although this is more a flaw of the character than a flaw in the story.  His decision to hide from ants inside an ant-hill must also rank as one of the all-time dumbest decisions in comics history.
  It's not clear how a solitary match with no other flammable materials nearby could create as much flame as is seen here, but that can be chalked up to artistic license.
  As alluded to earlier, there's no explanation given for the ant that aids Pym's escape and saves his life.  The rich inner life of this solitary ant is understandably not the focus of this story, but as depicted it comes off as incredibly coincidental and fortuitous.

IS THIS ONE IMPORTANT?

It's the first appearance of Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man aka Giant-Man aka Goliath aka Yellowjacket aka the Wasp aka who the hell knows these days.  On the other hand, it really isn't.  There's nothing to distinguish this from any one of dozens of Marvel stories from this period in which a mad scientist's invention backfires on him. You could safely skip ahead to Pym's debut as Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish (1959) #35 without  missing anything of genuine importance.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

It's a standard Lee-Kirby mad scientist/giant monster story, of the sort they churned out by the cartload in the early 1960s.  They're very good at this sort of thing, but it's not going to set your world on fire.  It also has a rather dubious message, ending as it does with Pym renouncing scientific creativity in favour of practicality.  That said, it also has Pym judo-flipping an ant, which is pretty great.

BEHIND THE SCENES
  • Interviews about the creation of Ant-Man are scarce, but here are Stan Lee's customarily vague recollections from 2008: "I did one comic book called 'The Man in the Ant Hill' about a guy who shrunk down and there were ants or bees chasing him. That sold so well that I thought making him into a superhero might be fun."
  • Stan's brother Larry Lieber (who scripted the story) has a much better memory, as evidenced by this excerpt from his deposition in the 2011 Kirby Family vs. Marvel lawsuit (go here for some lengthy highlights):

    Q: Let's talk about Ant-Man.
    LARRY LIEBER: That was another one I wrote, and I came up with his name too.
    Q: What was Ant-Man’s name?
    LARRY LIEBER: Henry Pym, P-Y-M.
    Q: And how did you come up with his name?
    LARRY LIEBER: I think I probably — in the back of Miriam Webster somewhere there was somebody Pym. And I thought “Henry” sounded like a scientist and “Pym” made it catching and different and exotic. So I came up with that.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Fantastic Four (1961) #2


Cover Date: January 1962
On-Sale Date: 28 September 1961
Cover Price: $0.10 US
Pages: 32 (24 story pages, 1 pin-up)

Cover Credits
Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: George Klein. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Script: Unknown (but almost certainly Stan Lee). Letters: Artie Simek.
  It was originally believed that Dick Ayers inked this cover, but current fan consensus attributes the work to George Klein.

Story Titles
The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls from Outer Space! (6 pages)
Prisoner of the Skrulls (8 pages)
The Fantastic Four Fight Back! (5 pages)
The Fantastic Four... Captured! (5 pages)

Story Credits
Script: Stan Lee. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: George Klein. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Letters: John Duffy.
  Previous speculation credited the inks to Dick Ayers or Art Simek, but George Klein is now the current fan consensus. See Fantastic Four (1961) #1 for further discussion of the source behind crediting Artie Simek as the inker.

Plot Summary
A race of shape-shifting aliens known as the Skrulls are planning an invasion of Earth.  Four Skrull agents are sent to impersonate the Fantastic Four, to frame them for crimes and turn mankind against them. The FF infiltrate their ranks by pretending to be Skrulls in disguise, and Mister Fantastic tricks the Skrull commander into ordering a retreat by showing him clippings from the comics Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. After the remaining Skrull agents are defeated and captured, Mister Fantastic hypnotises them into believing that they are cows.

Flashback 1
The Fantastic Four reminisce about their origin story for half a page. The final panel shows Reed catching the attention of a passing plane with his stretchy arms, a scene not shown in Fantastic Four (1961) #1.  The original version of the flashback had the FF trying to beat the USSR into outer space, but here Reed claims that they were attempting to make a trip to Mars.

Pin-Up
This issue contains a pin-up of the Thing in his original lumpy form (with an inset of Ben Grimm before the transformation). He’s shown mangling a lamppost, and described as “the strongest man-like creature on the face of the Earth!” This pin-up was pencilled by Jack Kirby, inked by George Klein, lettered by John Duffy, coloured by Stan Goldberg and scripted by Stan Lee.


CHARACTERS APPEARING

HEROES:

The Fantastic Four
The team is now famous. People all over the USA recognise them on sight, and are familiar with their powers. Even the Skrulls have heard of them, and fear them enough to want them out of the way before launching an invasion of Earth. The team seems to be well respected, but it doesn’t take much for the government to declare them as public enemies.  Indeed, between their first appearance in Central City and the beginning of this story, the US government has constructed special cells designed to hold them captive. When the story begins the team is hiding out in a hunting lodge (possibly as a means of escaping the publicity of their new-found fame). They apparently have many secret apartment hideouts. By the end of the story the team has proved its innocence, and is back to being respected by the authorities.
 Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1

The Human Torch (aka Johnny Storm)
The Torch is his customary hot-headed self throughout this issue, though he does show some genuine resourcefulness and intelligence.  He's seemingly not concerned about thinking of a solution to deal with the Skrull impersonators, as he's convinced that Reed will think of something.  Once the plan has been formulated however, he's the quickest to volunteer.
  Johnny displays his intelligence by quickly discovering an escape route from the military holding cell, and he also figures out Reed's plan to infiltrate the Skrulls without needing it explained.  Despite this, he also shows some remarkable ineptitude when it comes to undercover work: "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were Susan Storm and Reed Richards, two of the Fantastic Four!" he exclaims upon meeting the Skrull impersonators, which is hardly the best way to allay their suspicions.
  His animosity towards the Thing is on full display in this issue.  When the Thing loses his temper upon learning of the Skrulls, Johnny says that they will soon “have to do something about him” (although he quickly drops the idea on Reed's say-so). He later dismisses the Thing’s opinion, telling him to "shut up and let us think". When the Thing reacts angrily Johnny flames on, but once things have calmed down he claims that he doesn’t hold a grudge. He doesn't hesitate when it comes to stopping the Thing from murdering a Skrull prisoner.
  Powers and Skills: Johnny claims that his flame can't burn walls made of asbestos, but he has no trouble melting through walls made of other substances. He also melts a rocket launch platform into slag, and can fly fast and low enough to evade gunfire. After a collision with the Skrull that is emulating his powers there is an explosion, and Johnny’s powers are temporarily negated for a few minutes. The Skrulls are unable to withstand the heat of Johnny's flame, even when in a monstrous bullet-proof form. He looks very comfortable handling a hunting rifle, though he’s not seen firing it.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


The Invisible Girl  (aka Susan "Sue" Storm)
Sue is known and respected enough that a store owner lets her handle a diamond worth ten million dollars (it's really her Skrull impostor, but the shop owner doesn't know that). The public know that she is both Sue Storm and the Invisible Girl.
  Sue believes that eventually the Thing will run amok, and that none of the team will be able to stop him.  She's horrified when he tries to kill a captive Skrull.  Even so, she has an obvious empathy with him, and is able to calm him down. She is genuinely happy for Ben when he reverts to his human form, and tries to keep his spirits up when he changes back into the Thing.
  She carries a mirror with her, even into battle (because she’s a girl, you see).
  Powers and Skills: Sue tricks the US military prison guards by simply walking out through the door of her cell while invisible, and later uses her invisibility to help trip a Skrull.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


Mister Fantastic (aka Dr. Reed Richards)
Reed is famous enough that a workman is able to identify him simply from the sight of his stretching arm (again, it's really a Skrull's arm, but the point stands).
  Reed displays a calm intelligence and resourcefulness throughout this story.  He immediately deduces that the FF are being impersonated after hearing the radio reports of their crimes, and starts formulating a plan. He advises patience in dealing with the Skrulls, and also when asked what should be done about the embittered Thing. He surrenders without a fuss rather than fight the US army. It’s Reed’s plan to impersonate the Skrulls, but he doesn’t object when Johnny volunteers to carry it out. It only takes him minutes at most to cook up the scheme to fool the Skrulls with comic book clippings, and he pulls it off flawlessly. He’s calm and collected during the whole thing, but obviously relieved when it works.
  Reed is now blaming himself for the rocket crash that created the team, and specifically for the Thing’s condition.
  He threatens captive Skrulls at gunpoint to get information out of them (most probably a bluff), but stops the Thing from killing them. He’s willing to take responsibility for the captured Skrulls from the police, and the Skrulls believe that he might kill them. Instead, he chooses a merciful and ironic fate.
  Powers and Skills: Again, Reed’s stretchy arms are strong enough to restrain the Thing. He is able to squeeze his entire body through the tiny hole left by a loose rivet. He can stretch fast enough to catch a fleeing vulture (actually a shape-shifted Skrull). He’s also able to hypnotise three Skrulls into believing that they are cows, and believes that this conditioning will hold for the rest of their lives.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


The Thing (aka Ben Grimm)
The Thing is bitter and angry about his condition throughout this story, as he was last issue.  He becomes enraged at the news of the Skrull impersonators, and takes out his frustration by throwing a stuffed bear's head through the nearest window. He says that he's more than willing to fight back when the US military come for the team, and he doesn’t want to wait to find out who’s behind the impersonations, preferring to smash things. For all his talk, however, he surrenders quietly when the army comes, even taking the time to put on a coat before they arrive in order to hide his body. After escaping from the military he says that he’d rather stay and fight, but instead he flees with his teammates.  He threatens to fight the police, and claims “There ain’t anybody on Earth doesn’t know the Thing when they see ‘im!”  He seems more than willing to kill the captive Skrulls, making as if to strike them with a large chest of drawers held over his head; only the intervention of his teammates stops him.
  Ben is scornful when Johnny volunteers to draw out the Skrulls, dismissing him as a kid, and the two of them almost come to blows. When Sue shows sympathy for him, he lapses into self-pity, saying that maybe the world would be better off without him.
  He has a panic attack when returning to Earth through the “radiation belt”, and is initially unaware that he has reverted to Ben Grimm. He’s overjoyed at becoming human again, but despondent upon turning back into the Thing.
  Powers and Skills: He’s able to batter his way through walls made of thick battleship steel, though it takes him some time repeatedly punching the same wall to break through. He claims that he never gets tired. He’s staggered by the sudden heat of Johnny flaming on. Returning to Earth through the radiation belt reverts him to his human form, though he turns back into the Thing after a few minutes. (Why didn’t he transform when heading towards the Skrull mothership, though?)  He also wrestles a Skrull in the form of a giant snake.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


VILLAINS

The Skrulls (1st appearance)
Skrulls are small green humanoid aliens with tall pointed ears and wrinkled chins. Their goal is to conquer Earth, and their invasion fleet is contained within the Skrull mothership that is hovering in Earth's orbit. Before they can invade, the Skrulls believe that they need to get rid of the Fantastic Four, and to achieve this end they dispatch four advance agents to impersonate and discredit the team.
  The Skrulls are more than ready to kill Johnny once his disguise is penetrated. They seem to be more frightened of the Thing than they are of the other members of the FF.
  The Skrull commander is absurdly gullible, believing that some clippings from comic books represent Earth's defenses.
  When captured by the FF, the Skrull impersonators promise to live in peace rather than be killed. They claim to hate being Skrulls, and want nothing more than a peaceful, contented existence.  Despite these displays of cowardice, the Skrulls must value courage, as they have a medal for bravery that is unknowingly awarded to the FF.
  Background: When the Skrull commander calls a retreat, he says that the Skrulls must "leave this galaxy", implying that they come from a different galaxy to Earth.  Other than this, the origins of the Skrulls aren't given any detail at all.
  Powers and Skills: All Skrulls have the ability to change their form. They can use this power to grow and shrink, to disguise themselves, and even to take a form capable of flight. The forms they are seen to take include: all four members of the Fantastic Four; a giant snake; a vulture; and a spike-covered, bullet-proof monster.  The Skrulls seemingly can't take a form that is immune to Johnny's flame.
  Skrull Johnny doesn’t know how the other Skrulls replicated the powers of the FF (which seems unlikely, but I guess that exposition had to get in there somehow), but the others are quick to tell him. Skrull Thing destroyed an oil rig with a concealed electronic detonator (even though one panel depicts him tearing it apart with his bare hands; though it seems they can increase their strength when shapeshifting, they may not be able to do so to the Thing's level). Skrull Sue made herself "invisible" by shrinking to a few inches in height, an ability that seems to be a part of natural Skrull shapeshifting. Skrull Johnny simulated the Torch’s flame and flight with an anti-gravity harness powered by a chemical cylinder, and a low velocity thermal bomb. Skrull Reed’s natural shape-shifting ability allowed him to simulate Mister Fantastic’s stretching powers.
  As odd as it seems, the Skrulls don't automatically recognise that Johnny is an impostor when he tries to infiltrate them. Likewise, the Skrull commander doesn't realise that the FF are not Skrulls.
  Equipment: In addition to the technology described above that is used to impersonate the FF, the four Skrull impersonators wear blue uniforms with skullcaps, and they each carry a pistol. (These pistols are never seen to be fired, so their effect is unknown.) The guards on the Skrull mothership seem to be dressed similarly to the impersonators (the art and colouring are unclear), and are armed with rifles. The Skrull commander wears a red crested skullcap, a blue cloak and yellow gloves.


MINOR CHARACTERS

Central City Police Chief
(The police chief in this story may or may not be the same character from Fantastic Four (1961) #1, but he seems to be a visual match.  It's close enough that I consider them to be one and the same.  See the post on that issue for a visual comparison.)
  The police chief of Central City is waiting to arrest the FF when they return from the Skrull Mothership: he has a job to do and he's more than prepared to do it.  He's skeptical when Reed tries to explain about the Skrulls, but he is nevertheless willing to accompany the FF to their apartment to see the proof.  Upon seeing (and fighting against) the Skrulls, he readily believes Reed's story, and claims that he would trust the FF with anything.  He doesn't recognise the Thing in his human form.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


Others: Oil rig workers, a jewellery store owner, jewellery store security guards, presenters and crowd at a memorial unveiling, a workman at a power plant, soldiers in the US military, military policemen, personnel at a rocket launch site, some policemen

LOCATIONS

Central City
The city is never named during this story. In lieu of other evidence, and taking into account the likelihood that the police chief seen in this issue and the last are probably the same character, it will be assumed that this story takes place in Central City.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1

The FF's Secret Apartment Hideout
This hideout is apparently one of many. Little of the interior d├ęcor is shown, aside from some curtains, a lamp and a small table. From the outside it appears to be a small penthouse. It's not stated, but the apartment is most probably in Central City, and could very well be the same one shown in Fantastic Four (1961) #1.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1 (assuming it's the same apartment)


OBJECTS

Asbestos (1st appearance)
The walls of the cell that the US military designed to hold Johnny are made of asbestos. (It may seem odd to note the use of asbestos in this issue, but we're going to be seeing a lot of it.  And while the use of it here is quite practical, as we progress into the 1960s there are going to be some increasingly absurd applications.)


Comic Book Clippings (1st appearance)
The clippings that Reed uses to fool the Skrulls are taken from issues of Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery.  (As far as I can tell, the images used are new, and not taken from any specific issues of those comics.)


Cosmic Rays
The FF once again pass through a field of cosmic rays, here referred to as the "radiation belt" and the "cosmic belt". The rays are not seen, but they temporarily return the Thing to his human form. Why they have no effect on the rest of the team is a mystery (although one that could be explained by the later revelation in Fantastic Four (1961) #245 that Ben is trapped in his monstrous form due to a mental block.)
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1

Fantasti-Flare (not yet named as such)
Johnny uses the flare to signal the rest of the team. This time it shows the number 4 straight away, not the words ‘The Fantastic Four’ as it did in issue #1.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


Reed’s Test Rocket
The rocket is shown exploding in Flashback 1.
  Last Appeared In: Fantastic Four (1961) #1


Skrull Mothership (1st appearance)
The mothership is hovering above the atmosphere, unseen by the people of Earth. It is the size of an Earth city, and must be capable of intergalactic travel. A Skrull invasion fleet is also repeatedly mentioned, though only the mothership is ever depicted.  Perhaps the fleet is housed within the mothership? It’s probably big enough.


Skrull Space Ship (1st appearance)
This ship is disguised as a water tower, and was presumably used by the Skrull impostors to fly back and forth to the mothership.


Skrull Bravery Medal (1st appearance)
The medal given to Reed by the Skrull commander is their highest award for bravery. It's shaped like a starburst and stamped with the image of a ringed planet (not the Skrull Throneworld of Tarnax IV, which was never shown to be ringed as far as I'm aware). The medal appears to be blue, but given the limitations of comic book colouring at the time it may be meant to be silver.


Daily Bugle (1st appearance)
The Daily Bugle appears as one of a number of newspapers showing headlines about the fugitive status of the FF.  The Bugle's headline reads: "Dragnet Out For Fantastic Four!"  (Do newspaper really do headlines with exclamation points?)

Daily Globe (1st appearance)
A copy of the Daily Globe appears in the same montage as the Bugle, with the headline "Fantastic Four Declared Public Enemies".  The Globe makes another appearance later, when Johnny reads a story in it about a new rocket test.


WHO'D WIN?

The only fighting in this comic involves the Fantastic Four against their Skrull impersonators, and it's a thrashing in favour of the heroes.  There's surprisingly little of the Skrulls using their fake powers against the FF, just one moment where the two Torches collide and snuff each other out.  Otherwise the Skrulls use their natural shape-shifting abilities, and prove to be no match for the real FF.

CHRONOLOGY

Rather obviously, this takes place between Fantastic Four (1961) #1 and #3. It must be at least a couple of months since the team tackled the Mole Man, as there has been time for them to become national celebrities, and for the US government to prepare cells specially designed to contain them. (Although now that I think of it, there's no reason that the government couldn't have been aware of the team before they faced the Mole Man.)

CONTINUITY

Those Skrull cows, you guys.  They just keep on coming back.  Their first reappearance is in Avengers (1962) #92, where they impersonate Captain America, Iron Man and Thor in the opening stages of the Kree-Skrull War.  In Fantastic Four Annual (1963) #17, milk from the Skrull cows infects an entire town with Skrull DNA.  In Skrull Kill Krew (1995) #1, the poor old Skrull cows are slaughtered for beef, and the resultant hamburgers gift several people with shape-shifting powers (and a hatred of Skrulls).  Finally, a second Skrull Kill Krew miniseries in 2009 revealed that the Skrull cows mated with regular cows, and produced hybrid offspring.
  (I thought I was done with this, but apparently at some point Reed Richards also hypnotised a Skrull into believing that it was a duck.  Said duck was eaten by a girl called Tara Tam, who gained shape-shifting powers and became Howard the Duck's girlfriend.  I've no idea if this connects to the Skrull cows in any way, but it happened in Howard the Duck (2015) #5 if anyone is interested in finding out.)

FIRSTS

The major debut here is that of the Skrulls, who are the first alien race to appear in the modern Marvel Universe.  Despite their depiction here as generic shape-shifting baddies they will be major players in the future, not just as enemies of the Fantastic Four but for Marvel as a whole.  They're central to a number of important later storylines, most notably the Kree/Skrull War (from Avengers (1963) #89-97) and Secret Invasion (the central story of which was told in Secret Invasion (2008) #1-8).
  The Daily Bugle and the Daily Globe are both seen for the first time. The Bugle is, of course, best known as the newspaper that will employ Peter Parker as a freelance photographer. The Globe crops up in several stories down the line, the most notable probably being the origin of Eddie Brock (aka Venom).  It's generally used as the chief rival to the Bugle.
  This issue has the first instance of the Thing reverting to human form, albeit temporarily.  Given that the Thing's loss of humanity is one of the book's most important ongoing stories, this is something that we're going to see a whole lot of.
  The Human Torch utters his immortal catchphrase "Flame on!" for the first time, just before tackling a Skrull in the form of a bulletproof monster. The rather less well-known phrase of "flame off" is also said by Mr Fantastic.
  The Invisible Girl is first named here as "Sue Storm".  In the first issue, she was always called "Susan".
  This issue features the first evidence of the existence of the Marvel Comics company within the Marvel Universe, in the form of clippings from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. It will eventually be established (in Fantastic Four (1961) #10) that the Fantastic Four licenses their adventures to the fictional Marvel.

THINGS THAT MAKE NO SENSE

If the Skrull impersonating Sue Storm simulates her invisibility by rapidly shrinking, what happens to the diamond it’s attempting to steal? It’s not apparent that Skrulls can alter the shape of objects they are carrying, so it’s most likely that said tiny Skrull would have been running out of the store carrying the full sized diamond over its head. I suppose nobody noticed the priceless diamond scooting across the shop floor and out the front door.
  Johnny claims that his flame can’t burn through the asbestos walls of his cell, but after he finds the air vent and flames on he does exactly that. Unless, perhaps, he burned his way out through the floor? Or maybe the air vent itself?
  The scene where Reed Richards fools the Skrull commander with clippings from comic books is either thunderingly stupid or utter comedy genius. Either way, it makes little sense that anyone would be fooled by a bunch of illustrations. It’s possible that Reed treated the clippings to make them appear as photographs, but it’s still an implausible scenario.
  Reed's plan to draw out the Skrull impersonators relies on the Skrulls not all being together when Johnny attacks the launch platform.  If all four Skrulls had been in contact with each other, they never would have fallen for it.
  There are (naturally) four Skrulls in the group sent to impersonate the Fantastic Four. All of them are captured and tied up, but when the FF return from the Skrull ship only three Skrulls are present. Reed claims that the fourth is leaving Earth with the invasion fleet. It’s a highly unlikely story. Not only is there very little opportunity for said Skrull to make it back to the fleet, but if he did he would blow Reed’s deception right out of the water. There’s no reason that he wouldn’t tell all to his commanding officer, and then the fleet would be getting ready to invade within days. As this isn’t the case, that Skrull must be hiding out on Earth somewhere.  (Indeed he is, and he will resurface posing as politician H. Warren Craddock in Avengers (1963) #92.

IS THIS ONE IMPORTANT?

The Skrulls are kind of a big deal as far as Marvel alien races go. Not only that, but the whole thing with the hypnotised Skrull cows comes back, over and over and over again.  For all of its silliness, this is a foundational story of the Marvel Universe.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

The answer to that depends upon the reader’s threshold for Silver Age absurdity. There's a deep vein of silliness that runs through this story, to the point where it almost crosses the line into self-parody. If that's not your thing, you'll have a hard time with this story. For the rest of us, it's great.
  There's a a lot to be said for creators sticking with what they know. In the FF's debut issue Lee and Kirby did a story about giant monsters. For the second installment, it's shape-shifting aliens. It's all in keeping with the types of stories they were already telling in books like Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense. Kirby and Lee are good at this sort of thing, and they produce an enjoyable yarn.
  That's not to say that they're just regurgitating old material, however. The familiar alien/monster tropes are used as the base on which they quietly reinterpret the super-hero genre. The bickering and drama of the FF are brought forward from last issue, as is the notion that they might be at odds with the establishment. There's a darkness and a sense of danger lurking behind the silliness, and a groundedness that other superhero titles at the time were lacking.
  Not that this story is without its flaws. Most notable of these is the disappearance of the fourth Skrull at the end (possibly due to an artistic error, though there's no way to know for sure). Reed's assertion that the fourth Skrull fled to the mothership can't be right, as that would have foiled his plan to stop the Skrull invasion. (This is a mistake that was fixed by later stories and different creators, but it's a problem when reading this issue in isolation.) Thankfully, there's enough charm in this story to overcome the flaws. Reed's use of comic clippings to trick the Skrull commander is undoubtedly hokey, but it's also funny, as is him being awarded a Skrull bravery medal right after. The crowning moment, when Reed hypnotises the Skrull impostors into believing that they are cows, is deservedly legendary. There's a good reason that it keeps being referenced in stories, even to the present day.

BEHIND THE SCENES

  • It's difficult to find interviews with Stan Lee or Jack Kirby about the creation of the Skrulls. Lee did a podcast interview in the run-up to the Skrull-centric 2008 event Secret Invasion, but he talks about their creation in a frustratingly broad sense, and denies that they had any real-world inspiration. You can listen to it here; Lee may have nothing to say, but at least he says it entertainingly.
  • The letterer of this issue, John Duffy, is something of a mystery.  It's difficult to figure out exactly what he worked on without extensive research, as he's often mixed up with contemporary letterer Jon D'Agostino, who went by the pseudonym Johnny Dee (and who also worked for Marvel).  This is further complicated by the fact that both men worked on the first few issues of Amazing Spider-Man.  From what I can gather, Duffy's career started circa 1951, and he worked for a large variety of publishers throughout the next decade.  In the early 1960s he was primarily working for Dell Publishing.  Fantastic Four (1961) #2 seems as though it was his first work for Marvel.  He did some sporadic Marvel work from 1961 to 1963, then again from 1968 through to the mid-70s.  While Duffy never had a solid run as a letterer at Marvel, and the bulk of his work was done for other publishers, he contributed to some hugely significant comics.  It's odd that there are no details of his personal life that can be easily found.