“Listen to me, captain! This ‘little squirt’ as you call him, is the most dangerous living creature on earth! Your weapons and your men will be powerless against him!”
Part 1 – We are taken on a tour of the Fantastic Four’s base, reintroduced to them in turn, see their powers in action, and meet some of their supporting cast.
Part 2 – The Fantastic Four are directed to a restaurant by a deputy police inspector where a skinny green-skinned creature is eating all the food. This is the impossible man and he defeats all of the FF’s attempts to catch and detain him with a playful and irreverant manner. It is all apparently a game with him and so Reed hits on the idea of getting everyone on the planet to ignore the interplanetary being, which they do. The plan is successful for eventually he gets bored and flies away.
This issue is obviously offered as a ‘change of pace’ issue in the last panel, almost in the way of an apology, with a promise of the normal amount of adventure and excitement next issue. But really, no excuse is necessary because although the issue breaks many rules of the (admittedly rather shaky) established format, it is a very enjoyable issue.
For a start, Jack Kirby’s art seems to have taken a leap from the previous issue. It seems more developed. The characters are cleaner, more regular, and a more diverse toolkit of storytelling seems to be employed. The Thing is looking still rockier, and the Human Torch now has some rough features to his face when in his ‘flamed-on’ form. Now, much more often, characters look out at the reader, and there seem to be more panels with filled-in backgrounds.
Although Kirby had been working in comics for a considerable time up to this point, from what I know of his working style, I imagine that after he finished the last batch of issues, he did a batch of stories on other comics — X-men, Hulk, and Avengers would have been starting up around this time — and then returned to the FF having picked up (also invented) a few tricks. He was a fast artist and did a mountainous amount of work at this time and he would basically stockpile stories, as fast as Stan Lee could come up with story outlines. It seems fairly apparent to me that this issue represents a return to the title after a break of some months, most likely.
In any case, reading it seems a smoother experience, and the stories themselves seem designed to ease not just Jack himself back into the FF, but also old readers and potential new ones. The issue is divided into two equal parts, and the first of them contains no antagonist — and it’s brilliant.
Continuing from last issue’s revelation that the FF inhabit a universe in which the comicbook itself exists, created by ‘Stan and Jack’, the first panel opens with them heading down to the newsstand to buy the latest issue of their own comic. Finding the line too long, they stop to explain their powers to a group of kids who have dressed up as them. Then they return home, and we are introduced to the character of Willy Lumpkin, the postman, who will become a recurring character.
What follows next is a fantastic retelling of the Fantastic Four’s origin, drawn by a Jack Kirby with more developed abilities than the one of ten issues previous. Not only do we get the sneaking-into-the-rocketship part of the story onwards, but we go right back to where Ben and Reed first meet at university, where it is revealed that Reed is the ‘son of a millionaire’, and Ben is ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’. After graduation, they both enlisted in the war where Ben was a fighter pilot in the marines, and Reed was in the O.S.S., helping the French Resistance. This is the first time that this information is revealed to us, in addition to the revelation that Sue was the girl Reed ‘left behind…’. Sue stops his narrative and doesn’t want him to continue, since (she doesn’t admit, but it is inferred by the other) she has feelings for Namor. This is actually the first time the Reed has directly referenced his relationship to Sue. Earlier it was mentioned by other characters, at first by Ben in issue 1, when it looked as if he was going to rival Reed, and then by others. Shy man that he is, this is the first he’s come close to saying he loves Sue.
The FF answer their fan letters, and Sue breaks into tears — it seems the fans are being hard on her for not doing enough during the adventures; so that’s not gone unnoticed. What follows is something about Lincoln’s mother, and a very thin defense which does very little to convince — she once heroically got in the way of the Skrulls, and also bumped into some buttons when the boys were being held hostage by Doom. It doesn’t convince, but at least the problem has been acknowledged, and they say that’s the first step on the road to recovery.
The second feature is a short adventure which introduces Impossible Man into the Marvel U. Impossible Man is an alien with the ability to change himself into any shape, and with a mischievous sense of humour to boot. People familiar with Mr Mxyztplk will spot a very near affinity to this holidaying alien who interprets the FF’s attempts to stop his interfering madness as playful sportiness. He decides to hang around for ever.
It could so easily go the way of Kurrgo and Planet X except for the novel way that Reed decides to defuse the mad imp’s hijinx — he convinces the whole planet to ignore the shape-changing alien. It plays out in the space of only a single page, and is so dryly portrayed that, somehow, it just works, and you find yourself chuckling at the end.
It’s not a landmark issue, by any means, but for plain delightfulness, it definitely pleases. It aims simply to have fun with the FF and their world, and in that it succeeds. Nothing was attempted that it didn’t achieve.