Thursday, December 2, 2010

MARCH 1962

  • Fantastic Four #3

Fantastic Four #3
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"The Menace of the Miracle Man"

This is easily the weakest issue so far. One would think that with a bi-monthly schedule, the stories could be a little better thought out. The Miracle Man turns out to be (surprise!) a hypnotist who just makes people think they're seeing giant monsters and amazing displays of power. That's all well and fine, but it doesn't explain how the giant monster actually accomplishes the theft of jewelry or the atomic tank. Does that mean that when the Human Torch burns it to the ground, he really burned nothing? Is the monster still standing back at the theater? Seems like it would be, but that doesn't look to be the case. That's just not very well thought out. And I guess The Miracle Man is just running around discreetly filling his wheelbarrow with trinkets and loading the tank into the back of his semi by himself.

That's pretty much all there is to this story: some bad plotting that doesn't hold up to even the barest of attention and a silly villain with melodramatic, goofy plans. On the plus side though, we do get some interesting developments with the team and how they're seen by the public.

The very first page has the Miracle Man calling attention to them as they sit in his audience. He calls them celebrities and introduces them to the rest of the crowd by name. Reed seems to be the only one comfortable with the spotlight on him, and is it just me or is Kirby drawing him a little younger and more handsome this issue?

To go along with the more marketable Reed, we also get, as the cover promised, "The amazing Fantasti-Car" and "colorful new Fantastic Four costumes." I'm not sure how I feel about this. I mean, if Lee and Kirby intend to live up to the cover blurb declaring The Fantastic Four to be "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!" (yes, that's two exclamation points, mind you), then I suppose they do need to up their game. Especially when the main plots have been kind of weak so far.

The real strength of the comic is definitely the characterizations of each character. Except for Sue, of course, but hopefully Lee can come up with something that will make her more interesting as the series progresses. Along with that, I'm really enjoying the way Lee and Kirby are fleshing out the world these characters live in. After just three issues we've been introduced to a kingdom of underground monsters and an alien race that, while not too bright, seemed fairly intent on conquering the Earth. This issue introduced the idea of magical superhuman powers, but does what I think is the right thing, and pulls back on that to make it all a hoax.

As cheesy as some of the pseudo-science may be, everything so far has been based in nature and science. Nothing supernatural has been brought into play, and that's a nice touch that keeps things grounded as much as possible. To push that science envelope a little further, this issue we get a glimpse at just what Reed's been up to lately.

The Fantasti-Car is an interesting design, looking kind of like a flying bathtub that can then break into four separate mini flying craft. I wouldn't want to ride in it in bad weather, but it's a distinctive and unique design. We're also introduced to the Fantastic Four's "Secret Headquarters" in the upper tower of a New York skyscraper, with a handy-dandy cut-away diagram showing all the cool rooms and gadgets they have. In addition to the Fantasti-Car, there's a Fantasti-copter, a pogo orbit plane, an observatory, and a long-range passenger missile separated from the rest of the building by a very thoughtful "anti-vibration wall." I'm not sure where they got the money for all of this, though. It seems like a bit of a leap, and surely someone had to design and build it all. What are the implications of this?

And while Sue mostly serves as a hostage this issue, she does get a chance to put those "feminine skills" in play as the designer of the new Fantastic Four costumes. I'd love to find out what she made them from since hers turns invisible when she does, Reed's stretches with him, and Johnny's doesn't burn up when he Flames On (which provides Kirby with a reason to redesign the look of the flaming Human Torch). Of course, all their normal clothes did the same things, so I guess it's kind of a moot point. The designs are nicely done, but the best moments are having Ben gripe about them being "kid's stuff" and saying he won't wear them. Yeah, he's a grump, but remember: Ben was right.

On the characterization front, Ben and Johnny are again our main focus, particularly with their bickering interactions. Johnny's a smart ass who thinks a bit much of himself and Ben reveals one reason for wanting to be human again: He wants Sue to look at him the way she looks at Reed. That's kind of a bold statement to make right to Reed's face, but he doesn't seem to mind at all. He lets Johnny react and, of course, a fight breaks out.

The interesting thing here is that it's Johnny who gets fed up with Ben and leaves the group. It's only a trial separation at first as he goes to hang out with some friends at a corner soda fountain (that's a shop, for all you youngsters out there - not an actual fountain of soda spraying up out of a street corner), but at the end of the issue, he's had it with Ben and quits, flying off into the distance.

And though Sue's upset, Reed knows just what to say. He's not worried about Johnny, but is worried about MANKIND. His girlfriend's teenage brother just runs away and the first thing Reed thinks of is what kind of menace he'd be if he doesn't just quit, but turns against them. Way to look at the bright side there, dick.

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