15. The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android

Fantastic Four Issue Fifteen (15)

Issue Fifteen, June 1963

“I have an electronic hypno-ray field around this entire building! I’ve been expecting you — for I am the Thinker!”

The Thinker is plotting to take over the New York criminal empire and assembles a meeting with the mob bosses. After a display of his predictive powers, they agree to go along with his plans. Meanwhile, Johnny and Sue’s carny cousins visit and enlist him in their act. Later, the Thinker invades the Baxter building while everyone is out and turns its defenses against the Fantastic Four, as well as his Awesome Android. His plan goes perfectly until the FF’s mailman presses a special button that trips all the electronics in the building.

An FF villain pair is introduced in this issue: the Mad Thinker, one of the most visually uninspiring characters, and as his minion, the Awesome Android, one of the most visually disturbing.

The Mad Thinker is a character that goes in and out of fashion. It could be that many writers are not confident enough in themselves (or smart enough) to make proper use of him. (The Thinker enjoyed a brief energetic return in an Ultimate Fantastic Four annual as a teenage girl in a very well thought-out story by Mark Millar.)

It’s a shame that here, in his first adventure, he is so very nearly perfectly realized, but not quite. The idea that a man could map out social intersection formulae so precisely that he can time human interaction to the second, is a very complex and pure idea, and that is indeed what The Thinker does most of the issue. It is a let-down therefore, that The Thinker’s downfall is, he believes and is told by Reed, the unaccountable “Human X-factor” — the tendency for humanity to act completely unpredictably. Fantastic Four Issue Fifteen (15)Reed tells The Thinker that this is what he has failed to factor, and it’s maddening because that is exactly what he HAS been doing for the entire issue, from manipulating circus performers, Hollywood producers, wrestling promoters… whatever. The Thinker has ONLY been engineering “the Human factor”.

What The Thinker’s actual downfall was was not accounting for Reed’s intelligence and attitude towards contingency in telling Willy Lumpkin, the mailman, to press a certain button at a certain time in order to flip a circuit breaker that would deactivate all of Reed’s co-opted machinery. Far from being “incalculable”, the action could hardly have been more automated.

Fantastic Four Issue Fifteen (15)

Although he’s undeniably ‘Awesome’, the fact that he’s actually alive would mean he’s not an Android, right?

There is also the drawback of some unfortunate vignettes showing the FF trying to make it in the real world. Sue is a movie star, and Johnny becomes a circus performer in his “Cousin Bones'” circus. I’m fairly well-up on FF lore, and I’d never heard of a “Cousin Bones” Storm before. I’ll eat my hat if he makes a second appearance.

But the adventure isn’t a complete write-off. The notion of The Mad Thinker just waltzing into the Baxter Building almost as soon as the FF have walked their separate ways, is a delightful one, since it is exactly what someone with that ability would always be doing. And then using Reed’s equipment to his own ends is fun, especially since it gives us The Awesome Android (affectionately termed “Awesome Andy” by fans hereafter). The AA is based on Reed’s DNA research and is highly adaptable, mimicking powers of the being it is faced against. It makes a brief two-page appearance, but we are assured of seeing more of it in the future.

Fantastic Four Issue Fifteen (15)

The freakishly tall “Cousin Bones” — definitely a “WTF?” moment for the  FF historian.

For what, by my judgment, is the first time in the series, this is an idea which suffers from not having enough time to fully develop. It’s not as if there is too much packed into it, but The Mad Thinker should have had more time in the Baxter Building (or at least, more should have come from it), and the tables are turned on him far too quickly and, as I have pointed out, in maybe the most contrived way imaginable.

Still in all, it shows the FF being the FF in a tale only the FF could have participated in.


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