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