Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Fantastic Four (1961) #4


Cover Date May 1962
On-Sale Date 8 February 1962
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: Stan Lee. Letters: Artie Simek

Story Titles
The Coming of... Sub Mariner!
Chapter 1: "On the Trail of the Torch!" (5 pages)
Chapter 2: Enter the Sub-Mariner! (5 pages)
Chapter 3: Let the World Beware! (3 pages)
Chapter 4: Sub-Mariner's Revenge! (5 pages)
Chapter 5: "Return to the Deep!" (5 pages)

Story Credits
Script: Stan Lee. Pencils: Jack Kirby. Inks: Sol Brodsky. Colours: Stan Goldberg. Letters: Artie Simek.

Plot Summary
The Human Torch has quit the team, and the rest of the FF go out looking for him. After a violent confrontation with the Thing, he hides out in the Bowery, where he encounters an amnesiac super-strong hobo. Johnny identifies the hobo as Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and revives his memories by dropping him into the ocean. Namor, finding that his former homeland has been destroyed by atomic tests, declares war on the human race. He summons a giant sea monster called Giganto and attacks New York. The Thing defeats the monster by carrying an atomic bomb into its stomach. The Human Torch defeats the Sub-Mariner by creating a whirlwind and hurling him out to sea, but Namor vows that he will be back.

Flashback 1
The Human Torch burns through a wall to escape from the US military.

Flashback 2
The Torch burns the Monster from Mars statue, blinds the Miracle Man, and quits the team in a recap of events from Fantastic Four (1961) #3.

Pin-Up
There is a pin-up that shows Mister Fantastic stretching up from the ground and reaching towards a criminal who is leaning out of a skyscraper window and threatening him with a gun. It also has an inset that shows a close-up of Reed's face.


Letters Page
Len Blake thinks that Fantastic Four lives up to the tagline of "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World". Anthony Gonzales thinks that the Thing grumbling about his new costume was great. The suspiciously named "S. Goldberg" compliments the way that the characters bicker like real people. Shirley Howard wants to know, now that Marvel have finally had a hit, what they are going to do for an encore. Bruce Fogel wants an explanation for how the gem in FF #2 turned invisible along with Sue Storm. Jim Moony (probably not the future Marvel inker Jim Mooney) wants biographies of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And "Unsigned" wants  the Human Torch to have his own solo book (be careful what you wish for, mate).

House Ads
Several pages have text running along the bottom, with messages such as "The Hulk is Coming!", "Who Is the Hulk??", "What Is the Hulk??", and "You've Never Seen Anyone Like the Hulk!".  There's no indication here of what these messages mean, but they're ads for Incredible Hulk (1962) #1, which goes on sale about a month after this issue.

CHARACTERS APPEARING

HEROES:

The Fantastic Four
When the story begins they are more accurately "The Fantastic Three", as the Human Torch quit the team in Fantastic Four (1961) #3. He's back with them by the end of this issue.

Mister Fantastic (aka Dr. Reed Richards)
Following on from last issue, Reed is determined to find Johnny. He doesn't seem to be worried about the Torch's safety, as he reassures Sue that he is sure the Torch is okay; presumably he's concerned about the possibility of Johnny turning against humanity (as he said in issue #3). He's quick to blame the Thing for Johnny quitting the team, putting it down to his jealousy of Johnny's achievements in their battle with the Miracle Man, and he demands that the Thing help search for him.  (To be honest he seems exasperated with the Thing this issue, telling him to be quiet on more than one occasion.)
  His search tactics leave much to be desired though. He begins well, by suggesting that each of them take a section of the Fantasticar to comb the city. After that it goes downhill, as he is seen talking to random teenagers, recklessly pulling a young man from his moving motorcycle, accosting the crew of a helicopter (in the air), and questioning the passengers of a moving train. Shouldn't he be able to whip up a scanner or something?
  Reed has heard of the Sub-Mariner, but thought that he had died years ago. He doesn't have much interaction with Namor, except to express his determination to stop him from destroying the human race.
  Powers and Skills: Reed shows the customary use of his stretching abilities, with a little bit of super-strength while doing so (pulling a kid from a moving motorbike, catching Johnny in mid-air).  He's shown stretching from the ground to a helicopter flying above the Manhattan skyline.  He's also seen stretching to converse with passengers on a moving train, so he's able to stretch fast enough to keep up for at least 30 seconds or so. As an example, the R33 was a railway car that operated in New York starting in 1962, and it had a top speed of 89km/h, so it would be somewhere in that vicinity.


The Thing (aka Ben Grimm)
The Thing initially doesn't seem interested in looking for Johnny. He says that the Torch is a spoiled teenage brat, and that the team doesn't need him. When Reed blames him for Johnny's disappearance, the Thing plays the victim, complaining about being blamed for everything. Once it becomes clear that Reed is going to make him search for Johnny, he's suddenly eager to do it, implying that he wants to beat him up for deserting the team.
  Despite his obvious antipathy for Johnny, the Thing seems to know him well, as he's the only member of the team to think of looking at Swanson's Garage, one of Johnny's old hangouts. Upon finding him he instantly attacks. He says that he wants to teach Johnny a lesson for quitting the team, but it soon becomes apparent that he's angry because he thinks that the Torch has been laughing at his ugliness.
  The Thing plans to "rough Johnny up a little" (not kill him), but when a freak occurrence reverts him back to his human form he is ecstatic, and no longer cares about fighting.  The reversion only lasts for a short time, however, and the Thing grows despondent at becoming a monster again, sinking to his knees in a "helpless rage".
  Upon the arrival of Namor the Thing is confident, claiming that nothing human can stand up to him.  Namor attacks with a sea monster instead, however.  Upon seeing Giganto smashing New York, the Thing is quick to devise a plan which involves him carrying an atomic bomb into the monster's stomach.  (His exclamation of "One side woman!" to Sue isn't his finest hour, though.) He shows bravery and determination in executing the plan, and once he's away from the team his anger and bitterness are not as apparent. He shows some trepidation and fear at the thought of entering Giganto's mouth.  After Giganto has been blown up, and Johnny has expressed his pride in him, the Thing cracks a joke that might be the first piece of dialogue in which he genuinely sounds like the character he would become: "Big deal! That and a dime will get me a cup of coffee!"
  The last exchange between the Thing and Johnny, though a small one, is important, as it signals the end of their animosity. They'll still have fights and arguments, but for the most part they'll be more playful than genuinely hostile from now on.
  Powers and Skills: The Thing's feats of super-strength are minimal in this issue. He smashes some furniture and walls, lifts and throws a car, and easily defeats the monster inside Giganto's stomach.  The most impressive thing he does is carry an atomic bomb on his back. The bomb looks to be about the size of Fat Man (the bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki), which weighed 10,300 pounds, or about 5 tons.  He is bent over under the weight, but otherwise seems to have little difficulty carrying it.
  The Thing shows great resilience in surviving the shockwave of an atomic explosion, although he is stunned. The art isn't entirely clear, but it's likely that he was shielded from the majority of the blast by Giganto's body.
  The Thing mysteriously reverts back to his human form just as he is about to pulverise the Torch. It's presented here as a freak occurrence, but the later revelations about the nature of his transformation make it possible that he reverted subconsciously to stop himself from hurting Johnny.


The Invisible Girl (aka Susan "Sue" Storm)
Sue is understandably worried that Johnny is still missing, though not hysterically so. She's even more understandably worried that the Thing might hurt Johnny if he finds him. She cries when the Torch's section of the Fantasticar is left behind, and is relieved when her brother is found.
  Sue begins the search for Johnny in the centre of town, in a neighborhood where there are a lot of teenagers. Her search tactic seems to be nothing more than walking around while invisible, which seems even less effective than Reed's random questioning. And despite the concern she showed earlier, she still takes the time out to stop and enjoy a soda.  Eventually her search takes her to the Bowery (and several feet from Johnny), but she refuses to believe that her brother would end up in a place like that.
  Sue shows some initiative when she steals Namor's horn, but she is easily captured thereafter. Her beauty causes Namor to instantly propose to her, with the idea that he might then show mercy to the human race. Sue seems reluctant to make a decision, but later when Namor lays out exactly what he plans for the surface world she accepts his proposal in a state of near-panic in order to save humanity.  (At this stage, there's no indication that Sue is attracted to Namor. Her motivation here is strictly about saving the human race, and her acceptance of the proposal is treated as though she's sacrificing her own life. Later, of course, this will change, starting with Namor's next appearance in Fantastic Four (1961) #6.)  Sue has been aware of Namor in the past, as Johnny remembers her talking about him when they were young. What Johnny remembers is her talking about his powers, and there are no other hints to let us know what she thought of Namor previously.
  Powers and Skills: Sue uses her invisibility powers to explore New York unnoticed (and to drink a soda, which we'll assume she paid for). She later puts her power to use in stealing the Proteus Horn from Namor, but he captures her with ease shortly after. At this point Sue has yet to show that she can turn other objects invisible (aside from her clothes and costume), and this proves her downfall.


The Human Torch (aka Johnny Storm)
Johnny has been hiding out from the army, the police and the rest of the Fantastic Four since last issue. His hiding skills aren't that great, because he's spending his time working on hot rods with his friends, in a garage where he's been known to frequently hang out. It's a miracle that it took so long for anyone to find him.
  Johnny seems to enjoy showing off his powers for his friends, although he doesn't have a lot of regard for their safety, as he is messing about with his flames near drums of gasoline. He claims that his power is completely under control, but it's a bit reckless. When the Thing shows up and attacks, he shows a lot more concern for the safety of the hot rod he's been working on than he does for his friends.
  After his discovery by the Thing, Johnny goes to the Bowery, the one place where he believes that nobody will find him. Despite being basically homeless, he shows no signs of self-pity at all, and even finds time to enjoy reading an old Sub-Mariner comic.
  Johnny shows concern for the "old bum" who is eventually revealed to be the Sub-Mariner, and tries to stop the other derelicts from harassing him. He shaves Namor with his flame, as a way to help him regain his memory, though it seems like a dubious method. As soon as he realises who the old bum really is, he shows no hesitation or thought for the consequences, and drops him into the ocean to restore his memory.
  Despite his feelings about the Fantastic Four - he never wanted to see them again - he summons them as soon as it becomes apparent that Namor is a threat to mankind. He and the Thing go right back to insulting each other, but after the Thing defeats Giganto, Johnny tells him that he's proud of him. (As mentioned above, that pretty much marks the end of the genuine animosity between the Torch and the Thing.)
  The Torch utters his famous catchphrase "Flame on!" for the first time in this issue.
  Background: Believe it or not, this issue is the first to specifically state that Johnny is a teenager.
  Powers and Skills: Johnny's standard flaming powers are on display here, but he uses them with more finesse than he has in previous issues. He claims to be able to completely control his flame, and demonstrates by flaming on near drums of gasoline without them catching fire. He's also shown welding a hot rod engine with a single flaming finger, and using the same trick to shave Namor's beard and hair.
  He is able to fly to a height of at least 1,000 feet. By flying in circles, he's able to create a tornado of such strength and suction that it's able to hurl Namor and the corpse of Giganto out to sea.
  Johnny's apparently great at modifying hot rod engines.


VILLAINS:

Namor the Sub-Mariner (1st modern appearance)
At the beginning of this story, Namor had been living as an amnesiac bum in the Bowery for a number of years (for reasons that aren't explained in this issue). It's made clear that he was an active super-hero in the 1940s, and quite well-known; Johnny finds an old comic based on him, and most of the characters in the story have heard of him.
  As an amnesiac, Namor seems dull and confused, and only wants to be left alone. He is only roused to anger when harassed by other flophouse derelicts. As soon as he is immersed in the ocean his memories return, along with his intelligence and sharp temper. He is quick to vow revenge on the human race for the destruction of Atlantis, even though he is sure that his people have survived; he opts to attack New York with Giganto rather than go looking for them.
  Upon seeing Sue Storm for the first time, Namor declares that she is the loveliest human he has ever seen, and offers to show mercy to the human race if she will marry him. He does not give her much say in the matter, however; as soon as the rest of the FF arrive, he declares that he will have her as well as his revenge. He seems even more offended when Sue realises the extent of his plans, and offers to marry Namor for the good of humanity; he considers marriage to himself to be an honour, not a sacrifice. (These scenes are the basis for most of Namor's appearances over the next few years. His infatuation with Sue, and the subsequent love triangle with Reed, will drive most of his stories until Reed and Sue are married in Fantastic Four Annual (1965) #3. Sue doesn't show any signs of attraction to Namor here, but she also doesn't show outright disgust.
  Background: We learn here that Namor was the prince of an undersea civilization that has existed for centuries. He was active circa the 1940s, and renowned as the world's most unusual character. He starred in his own comic books, at least one of which depicted him fighting soldiers on the cover. Some time later he lost his memory, and lived as a derelict in the Bowery for "long years", with his mind in a fog. During the time that he was an amnesiac, his home was destroyed and his people scattered by atomic testing.
  Powers and Skills: Even in his amnesiac state, Namor is easily strong enough to scatter a group of Bowery derelicts. He is able to live underwater, and is said by Johnny to have "the strength of ten men". Sea water revives him instantly, restoring his mind and his vitality.  Once revived, he is shown as strong enough to scatter Reed, Johnny and the Thing all at once.
  Namor is described as "travelling in his native element like a careening torpedo", so it's probable that he swims significantly faster than a normal man.
  Namor claims that his people could not be harmed by radiation, and that probably also applies to Namor himself.
  In addition to his natural powers, Namor has knowledge of the location of the Proteus Horn, and was able to use it to command Giganto. Later issues will show that he knows the locations of many treasures and relics buried at the bottom of the ocean.


Giganto (1st appearance)
Described by Namor as "the largest living thing in all the world", Giganto is found slumbering on the bottom of the ocean, as he has done for "ages".  He can only be awakened by one thing: the Proteus Horn, which Namor's people buried near him centuries ago. The creature is described as mindless, and once awakened it will follow the trumpet-horn wherever it leads.
  Giganto is large and strong enough to splinter a tramp steamer, and later is shown smashing several large buildings at once.  It is resilient enough to withstand heavy cannon fire, and the only thing shown to be able to harm it is an atomic bomb detonated inside its stomach (which kills it).
  Although Ben says that Giganto breathes through its mouth, it also has a blowhole, which it uses to fire a jet of water at the Human Torch. It's possible that the creature uses both to breathe, and is amphibious; it seems to have little trouble surviving on land.
  Despite Namor's claims that Giganto has been asleep for ages, the contents of the monster's stomach suggest otherwise. There are several ships there: one resembling a galleon, one that could perhaps be a Viking longship, and another that looks like a steamship. (Please be gentle, my knowledge of ships is rudimentary at best.)  Even if Namor is correct, Giganto must wake up periodically to swallow some ships before going back to sleep.


The Monster Inside Giganto's Stomach (1st appearance)
Giganto doesn't just have ships in its stomach, it also has at least one living creature.  It's somewhat larger than the Thing, with a fish-like face and six limbs that each end in pincers. It attacks the Thing silently, and he makes short work of it. Presumably it's killed in the subsequent atomic bomb explosion.


The Miracle Man (in flashback)
The Miracle Man is shown here in a flashback to Fantastic Four (1961) #3, being captured after Johnny has blinded him.


The Monster From Mars (in flashback)
The statue of the Monster From Mars is shown here in a flashback to Fantastic Four (1961) #3, being burned to a crisp by the Human Torch. Although come to think of it, it's just an illusion cast by the Miracle Man, so the real thing doesn't appear here at all.


MINOR CHARACTERS:

Atlanteans (1st mention; not shown or named)
The people of Atlantis are only named here as "Namor's people". They are described as being "old when the stars were young" (a bit of Stan Lee hyperbole, no doubt). At the very least their civilisation is centuries old, as that's how long ago they are said to have buried the Proteus Horn. Namor's home city was destroyed a few years ago by atomic testing; the ruins are of green stone, with elaborate carvings and engravings.  Like Namor, his people must be able to survive underwater. According to Namor, they are immune to radiation.

Johnny's Friends
Three of Johnny's friends are hanging out with him at Swanson's Garage, telling him how great he is at fixing engines. They don't stick around for long once the Thing shows up. It's probable that they're the same friends that appeared last issue, and I've provided some visual reference to compare.

The left panel shows Johnny's friends from Fantastic Four (1961) #3, and the middle and right panels show them from #4. It's hard to draw a conclusion either way, especially considering the crude colouring in #3.

Others: US soldiers, citizens of New York, a soda shop customer, motorcyclists, kids playing baseball, bowery bums, helicopter crew, train passengers, tramp steamer crew, New York police, New York city officials (or perhaps other governmental types, it's not clear).

LOCATIONS:

The Baxter Building
The Baxter Building is barely seen this issue, but it's reiterated that the location of the FF's headquarters is still a secret.

The Bowery (1st appearance)
After he is discovered by the Thing, Johnny goes to the Bowery, where he believes that nobody will ever find him. It's shown to be a very poor district of Manhattan, full of derelicts and bums. Sue describes it as a "haven of lost souls", and refuses to believe that Johnny would ever end up there. This was true of the area in the real world from the Civil War up through the 1970s, after which a slow gentrification process forced the vagrant population out.


Swanson's Garage (1st appearance)
Located in an area of Manhattan with plenty of greenery, Swanson's Garage is one of Johnny's favourite hangouts, and it's here that he goes when hiding out from the FF and the military. It suffers quite a bit of damage at the hands of the Thing in this issue.


Atlantean Outpost (1st appearance, not named)
After having his memory restored, Namor swims directly to his "undersea kingdom", only to find that it is in ruins due to atomic testing. The rubble is made of green stone, and covered in elaborate carvings, and the city probably resided off the coast of New York. The implication in this story is that this was the capital of Namor's kingdom, but it was later revealed in Sub-Mariner (1968) #1 that it was only an outpost.


OBJECTS

Fantasti-Flare (not yet named)
Johnny fires his flare to summon the FF after he has revived Namor.


Horn of Proteus (1st appearance)
This trumpet-horn is, according to Namor, the only thing that can command Giganto; the monster will follow its sound wherever it leads. It was buried near Giganto's sleeping place centuries ago by the Atlanteans, and only now retrieved by Namor to use in his revenge on humanity. Namor claims that it can also be used to summon other sea monsters as well as Giganto. At the end of the story Namor is hurled out to sea, and he loses his grip on the horn, which sinks to the bottom of the ocean, apparently lost forever.
  (Proteus was a god of the sea from Greek mythology, and no doubt this is what Stan and Jack were referencing here. There is also a villain called Proteus who shows up in Sub-Mariner (1984) #2, an Atlantean wizard, but he has no known connection to the Proteus Horn.)


Fantasticar
Reed, Ben and Sue use the Fantasticar when searching the city for Johnny, splitting into sections so that they can cover more ground individually. This is the first time that Johnny's section of the Fantasticar has been left behind.


Atomic Tank (in flashback)
Miracle Man was driving the tank when Johnny blinded him, in a flashback to Fantastic Four (1961) #3.


Sub-Mariner Comic
This comic from the 1940s was conveniently lying around in the very same flophouse where Namor himself was staying. It doesn't appear to be depicting an actual real-world comic, but it's in remarkably good condition.


WHO'D WIN?

It's hard to say from this issue, because there are no conclusive battles. Namor and the FF never come to grips, and even though Johnny is able to hurl him out to sea it's not really a proper fight. Giganto is beaten when the Thing sets off an atomic bomb inside it, but the sense given is that it could beat the FF with ease in a straight battle.  The only thing we can definitely state is that the Thing is able to beat up the monster that lives inside Giganto's stomach.

CHRONOLOGY

This story seems to take place all in a single day, but given that New York City is evacuated it should probably take place over a bit more time than that.  It shouldn't take place more than a week or so after Fantastic Four (1961) #3, as Johnny just recently quit the team and is still on the run.

CONNECTIONS & RETCONS

The Sub-Mariner's history, and the events leading up to this issue, are given plenty of attention in later stories. His amnesia isn't explained here, but in Sub-Mariner (1968) #1 it's revealed that it was caused by Paul Destine, a would-be world conqueror, using the Serpent Crown.  The date of this event is given as 1959 in Saga of the Sub-Mariner (1988) #6. This fits well with Namor's prior publishing history, as the last comic he starred in was published in 1955.
  Atlantis was not destroyed by atomic testing as Namor believes in this issue, but was actually ruined by Paul Destine.  The people of Atlantis did not die, but instead fled to the Atlantic Ocean to set up a new kingdom under the rule of Byrrah (as established in Saga of the Sub-Mariner (1988) #7.  Namor won't find them again until Fantastic Four Annual (1963) #1.
  It's established in Marvel Universe (1998) #7 that Giganto, and others like him, were created by the Deviants.  An entire race of Gigantos is seen in Fantastic Four (2014) #3.  I don't believe that the subterranean Giganto from Fantastic Four (1961) #1 has been specifically linked to the undersea monster, but as both have Deviant origins it's possible that they may be related.
  The Horn of Proteus is not lost in the depths of the murky sea forever, as this issue would have you believe.  In the real world, it reappears again in Sub-Mariner (1968) #21, where the Atlantean warlord Seth uses it to summon some undersea monsters to attack the US Navy.  Chronologically, it was first retrieved by Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Comic Magazine (2001) #3.

FIRSTS

While this isn't the true first appearance of the Sub-Mariner (that happened in Marvel Comics (1939) #1), it is the first time he appears in the Silver Age, and also his first meeting with the members of the Fantastic Four.  He spends the early-to-mid 1960s as an antagonist for the Fantastic Four, until transitioning into a heroic role and headlining his own strip beginning in Tales to Astonish (1959) #70.
  Likewise, this is the first Silver Age mention of the Atlanteans and their civilisation. Atlantis will be one of the more prominent "hidden civilisations" of the Marvel Universe going forward.
  It's also the first appearance of an undersea Giganto, as well as the Proteus Horn. Both of these will reappear from time to time, but their major claim to fame is that they're involved in this particular issue.
  Johnny utters his famous catch-phrase "Flame on!" for the first time in this issue. He must know he's onto a good thing here, because he uses it no less than four times.
  The tag-line of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!!" appears on the cover in its proper form for the first time ever.  The tag-line - or a variation of it - will appear on most FF covers going forward; of the first volume of the series, every issue after this has it except for #232, 286, 319, 350, 358, 374, 376-380, 386, 389, 392, 406, and 413.

SIGN O' THE TIMES

When Johnny checks into the derelict hotel, he thinks to himself, "It's not the Waldorf, but it'll keep me safely hidden..." This is a reference to the Waldorf-Astoria, a highly-regarded New York hotel that opened in 1893.
  Stan Lee frequently spells teenager as "teen-ager" throughout this story (and in most Marvel Comics of this vintage). The concept of being teenage was something that came into prominence after World War 2; no doubt the word is still a novel one, and hadn't reached the point where the hyphen would be dropped.
  The 1940s Sub-Mariner comic that's just lying around in a Bowery flophouse becomes less and less plausible as the Marvel Sliding Timescale drags the story forward in time. Even in 1962 it seems a little unlikely to still be around.
  This one is hardly indicative of the time, but as Ben is entering Giganto's mouth he compares the experience to the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah was a Hebrew prophet, who was commanded by God to go to the wicked city of Nineveh and raise his voice against it. Instead he tried to flee his task by ship, and was cast overboard by a storm and swallowed whole by a whale. Inside the whale he prays for deliverance, until the whale vomits him up on dry land, and Jonah is free to go to Nineveh and do his duty. Aside from the whale the stories bear little resemblance, but Ben's knowledge of it is consistent with the later revelation that he's Jewish.

THINGS THAT MAKE NO SENSE

There aren't any egregious errors or plot holes. The only "mistakes" that I can think of are issues with time. How long would it really take to evacuate Manhattan, for example? This comic seems to think a few hours to a day would do it, which seems unlikely. It's possible that only the section nearest to Giganto's rampage was evacuated, but the comic seems to suggest that it was the entire city.

IS THIS ONE IMPORTANT?

Extremely. Not only is it the Silver Age debut of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, but it's also the link that ties the modern Marvel Universe back to its Golden Age roots. A cohesive timeline, and the idea that all of these stories fit together somehow, is one of the cornerstones of the Marvel Universe, and connecting all the way back to Marvel Comics (1939) #1 goes a long way towards establishing that.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

Now this is more like it. With Jack Kirby getting a handle on the visuals and character designs, and Stan Lee starting to get the voices right, Fantastic Four begins to come into its own. The icing on the cake is the reintroduction of Namor, a real masterstroke. Not only does it provide the story with a villain who comes with tons of personality and motivation built-in, but it also provides a link back to very beginning of Marvel's publishing history. It's all wrapped up in some tense action, and the sequence where the Thing carries an atomic bomb inside Giganto's stomach is brilliant. There's a lot of improvement to come, but this is miles ahead of the first three issues.

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