22. Return of the Mole Man

Fantastic Four Issue Twenty-Two 22

Issue Twenty-Two, Jan 1964

“Oh, Reed… this is wonderful! Your theory was right! My invisibility is a form of energy, and once I learn to control it, I can turn it into a protective screen!”

Reed helps Sue develop her powers of invisibility and she learns how to create barriers and make other objects than herself invisible. Then the group decides to check out an island that is for sale that he might want to buy in order to conduct his experiments. It turns out that the island was a gateway into the Mole Man’s kingdom and the whole island-for-sale angle was just a lure for the Fantastic Four. His plan is to lower cities beneath the surface of the earth to make them appear destroyed and trick the world’s nations into destroying each other. However, his attempts are thwarted when Sue projects an invisible bubble over the control mechanism. The FF try to escape and fall into various traps. They escape and the Mole Man is finally able to press the control button, unaware that Mr Fantastic has rewired the mechanism so that the island itself sinks into the ocean.

Finally! Sue gets her power upgrade! It took two years, but it finally happened and as is revealed, it now makes her perhaps the most powerful member. There’s precious little explanation of how she got this upgrade (that makes sense, at least), but the real reason would have been clear to even the most cursory of readers. Apart from invisibly kicking Doctor Doom’s butt in issue 17, the effect of Sue’s power has just been to invisibly get in the way of something which would, more often than not, afterwards capture her.

It is disseminated to us by Reed that Sue’s powers now have three aspects: 1, to make herself invisible; 2, to project invisible force shields; and 3, to make any other object invisible for a limited time. Each of these powers are exclusive of each other, so at this time, she can’t make herself and another object invisible at the same time.

Fantastic Four Issue Twenty-Two 22

Far from Reed’s normal methods of testing his teammate’s powers, this playful attitude is a very genuine moment. The FF are as excited by Sue’s powers as we are.

We also have another story from The Mole Man, last seen in issue 1,  making him only the fifth recurring FF villain (1. Namor, 2. Doom. 3. Puppet Master. 4. Skrulls). He has not been forgotten though, since every other issue, it seems, someone has cause to reflect on the villains of their past. This is the first appearance of the Mole Man’s Moloids, or “subterraneans” as they are referred to in this issue, and they are very creepily portrayed and do not yet sport their eye-slit glass, their faces are simply blank and expressionless with enormous, unemotive eyes.

The story itself is a kind of enjoyable oddity. With very minor changes, it’s almost a complete rehash of the FF’s first encounter with the Mole Man. His aims are almost identical — just swap out “destroying the world’s nuclear reactors” to “lowering the largest cities of the world into my domain”, and you’re away.

Fantastic Four Issue Twenty-Two 22However, all of the rest of the changes, oddly seem to work, and so it’s a very entertaining read. In a plot contrivance, the Mole Man separates the FF from each other in a series of devious rooms, with the vital distinction (and the only reason to ever do something of this sort) that they serve to reveal character. It’s one of the few times so far that we see The Thing thinking his way out of his trap. It’s also one of the few times that we see Reed having to muscle his way out of his, and he collapses from exhaustion once that’s done. Sue gets to showcase some of her new power, but has to apply more than the usually required amount of lateral-thought. Johnny likewise has to set off his trap and endure a good amount of discomfort in order to disable it.

Although the beats are the same, this is a long way away from issue 2, say, where the FF are trapped by the army and Reed is able to slip out of an air vent that his captors “didn’t account for”, or Johnny is able to blast through his room merely by stripping the asbestos coating off the walls. Although the dangerous situations are still contrived, the resolutions are not.Fantastic Four Issue Twenty-Two 22 EVALUATION: 8/10

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