“I hereby nullify every man-made law! I countermand every known rule and regulation! There shall be no law but my will! There shall be none to give orders save me — the Molecule Man!!“
The Fantastic Four are investigating a weird ball of fire which, when they enter it, transports them to The Watcher’s headquarters on the moon. There he warns them of a janitor who has gained the ability to change every atom and molecule in the universe to whatever he wishes it to be. Returning to earth, they find the Molecule Man making belligerent threats to the masses assembled outside the Baxter Building. They are very outmatched and are forced to flee. Eventually they are able to lure him to Alicia’s apartment where they pose as statues of themselves, able to attack him unawares, separating him from his power wand. The Watcher arrives and takes him away.
Now this is more like it. The cover proclaims that the readers will “clearly understand why fans everywhere are calling this the Marvel Age of Comics”, and it’s not far wrong. This issue proves that the Fantastic Four are best off when fighting against a power far greater than they are. In fact, that should be a universal principle for all superhero stories – the threat must be greater than the abilities of those that oppose it. It seems like such a fundamental idea, but that’s where last issue really fell down – a guy with a clever gun is no real threat at all to anyone in the FF.
But back to this issue. Here we have the first appearance of the Molecule Man, but without any of the moral nuances that he will adhere to him in the future. Here he is a straight villain, and merely riffs off of the Lee/Kirby villain playbook. What does he want? World domination and the humiliation of the FF. Why does he want it? Hard to say. I suppose this is why Lee/Kirby kept pushing Namor, because they had come across an antagonist whose motives they understood as different. It’s beginning to feel like they’re just waiting to stumble on another one of those. One really gets the sense that they’re throwing bad guys at the wall and seeing what sticks. This story opens very differently to any of the others in that The Watcher seeks them out and brings the threat of the Molecule Man to their attention. That hasn’t happened before. Along the way, the FF are helped by the Yancey Street Gang, and for the first time we see more of that illustrious group than just a hand throwing a brick or cabbage — we are treated to an entire human silhouette! There is also a scene of a Reed/Sue plan of attack, which I think is the first time we’ve seen just the two of them working together. It’s a nice moment.
Molecule Man himself is well-designed, and a relief from last month’s very drab Rama-Tut. His power is even customarily zany, and yet simple: the ability to rearrange inorganic molecules into any other configuration (I suppose technically that would have to be atoms as well as molecules). It’s a good one and one that could so easily have gone to another book like X-Men or Avengers, but it’s welcome here.
It’s good to finally see the FF be broken out of the formulaic rut that they’ve been in for the last few issues.