||The wrong kind of empathy:||Alliances based on fear are weak. True alliances are based on each side wanting the best for the other.|
||Scale is an illusion:||A theme summed up at the end, in annual 23)|
||The weakest are the strongest:||We are introduced to Alicia, the one who will defeat Galactus|
||The fragility of power:||All of Reed's status can be lost in an instant|
||A warning about relying on force:||Symbolically, using force makes us small
||Real power:||Reed is about to achieve glory, but first we get a glimpse of what real power is, and why Reed cannot see it.|
||Military acceptance:||The team are finally accepted by the military. After issue 11, this is an implied commentary on America's values|
||Triumph and glory:||Once again accepted by the military-industrial complex, Reed has his second chance: his greatest triumph.|
After the triumph of issue 7, Reed takes too many risks and loses everything - almost including Sue. Reed's self worth relies on being Mr Fantastic, and if he can't even pay the bills then he is anything but. Here he tortures himself with blame, and comes close to breaking when Ben - the man he thought he had defeated - starts sounding smarter than him.
About the chart:
For simplicity the chart of Reed's life combines the early highs and lows as a single jagged line. There are in fact two major ups and downs: the first is issues 1-3: reaching space (a triumph), followed by the crash and then being public enemies, then being vindicated and having a triumphant headquarter skyscraper. That mirrors this second roller coaster period in issues 6-13, where triumph (defeating all enemies and saving planet X) is followed by bankruptcy and humiliation, and then Reed returns and reaches the moon. Being probably autistic (As will be discussed in later issues), Reed hates the uncertainty, so probably decides to make better use of alien technology, following Doom's lead (with Doom's space plane and grabber).
Sue saves the day again
Reed's mistakes drive them into the streets, whereas Sue's willingness to see the best (this time with Namor, causing him to love her) saves their finances. Contrast Reed's willingness to risk their home with Sue's maternal priorities, Namor's quest for his home, and Doom's obsession with his home: his castle, his heritage, his country, and perhaps even his name (see notes to FF5).
This is probably the point where Reed came to rely more heavily on alien technology, so he would never be without an instant patent ever again: Reed hates being humiliated. From this point, Reed began to patent everything he could, including alien technology, as this much later comic confirms. Is this ethical? You decide.
More about Reed's policy change
Until this point (and really until the end of act 4) Reed was an extremely proud man. His name "Mr Fantastic" says it all. He had achieved so much and no doubt believed he could do anything. But in FF9 we see him for the first time humiliated. He invested, his investment failed, he was mentally cornered. He said something like "you can only push a man so far" In the next issue he sees how Doom has leaped ahead technologically by making full use of alien tech (from the Ovoids). In the issue after (FF11) we see that he studies the planet X saucer. The issue after shows him getting friendly with the military and seeing their greatest secrets. Then the issue after is when he finally makes it to the moon, using the meteor. It seems to me fairly clear cut: before that (e.g. issue 3 and the roof elevator) he was far more proud of stuff he did on his own, but in issue 9 he seems to decide that he cannot afford that attitude: he has to focus more on stuff made by other people.
The themes again:
Note the historical context:
This is one of Stan Lee's favorite stories: when asked what makes the team special he often refers to how he likes the bankruptcy, because it's so down to earth.
Note that the original team was always fragile: being superheroes was never a given. In contrast, from the Franklinverse onwards, the team is always wealthy: when Mark Waid wrote a story about the team becoming bankrupt, they still had their fabulously expensive headquarters and equipment (by that point even more luxurious and remote from the average reader).
The Hollywood scenes feature some of the biggest names of the time: the obvious ones are John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Alfred Hitchcock. The others are probably:
As for the actress on page 10, the consensus is probably Brigitte
Bardot. This is clearer in the original than in the reprints: we see
heavier eye makeup, the hair color, etc. A second possibility is Ann
Margret, but the moody look and bigger hair on top suggests Bardot. (A
note to younger readers, if you haven't seen Ann Margret dancing with
Elvis Presley you haven't lived.)
In FF9 Ben changes after being hit by lightning. But FF8 implies, and FF245 confirms, that his inability to change is caused by his unconscious fears. So what's happening here? Look at the context: he's just defeated Namor, a prince, a powerhouse, the man who threatens to steal Sue's heart. Namor says "what does it take to knock you out?" Ben must be feeling on top of the world! Whatever his unconscious fears they are nowhere to be seen at this point. So he should be able to change at will. The lightning was a great shock, and shock often knocks the wind out of the Torch, causing him to change back to normal, and the same happens for Ben.
In FF8, Ben changes due to one of Reed's potions. This is to be expected: Reed could probably find a chemical to force himself to lose his stretching ability as well. This is the key issue where we see that Ben does not want to change because he fears he could lose Alicia, just like he lost Sue.
In FF4, Ben changed when he was about to pulverize Johnny. He said he would "teach you who's boss, once and for all." Johnny was literally cornered. Ben was feeling extremely confident at this point, and he could easily relax as he would not need to use great strength. So at that moment he changed. Ironically, when he changes back he feels excited and full of personal energy... so he changes back. Then his default fatalism kicks in again.
In FF2, Ben changed when he was panicking about being in the radiation belt again. He said "No! I Won't No!" and "cowers like a frightened child." He desperately wanted to not be The Thing, more than at any time before, and so he changed. Then soon after he feels so good about being human that he rejoices. No doubt the adrenalin flows with his excitement, so of course he changes back again.Then the deeper fatalism and victim-hood kicks in and so he can't change back.
All of this is consistent with FF8 and FF245: Ben can change
if he feels in control of his life, and feels it's OK to change.
But he almost never feels in control.
Why the others change
In the first issue, all of the team changed in response to emotion.
The Fantastic Four and the Hulk are the same in this respect: changing is a result of emotion. Bruce Banner changed to the Hulk when he was angry. Ben was the same: but he was always angry. Except with Ben the anger is bottled up, repressed, supporting the more visible layer: his depression. For more about Ben's psychological state see the notes to annual 1.
Special thanks to Kleefeld's old "FF Plaza" site for some details:
This is where we are first invited to make the direct comparison between Reed and Doom. Throughout the 28 year story, Doom will serve as a reminder of what Reed could become if he's not careful. For an overview of Doom's twenty appearances see his own page.
Relationship changes and the timing of this issue
Why did Ben notice and Sue didn't? Because at this point Ben is obsessed with Reed: in three issues' time Reed will finally win. So Ben is in mental turmoil about him. Meanwhile, at this point Sue is thinking more of Namor after the previous issue. So this issue could not have taken place at any other time.
Note the realism in this story:
Doom's armor: this is the key moment
Doom's technology is a story all of its own. I love how we can trace the story from issue to issue: every issue matters, no page is wasted. This issue is a prime example. Doom's technology has two main strands: robotics and armor. These reflect Doom's ego: his need to control (robots) and his self hatred (the armor: see analysis in the notes to FF 199). Contrast this with Reed's two great technologies: unstable molecules and (later) the sub-space portal. Doom is about control and opposition: Reed is about freedom and discovery.
This issue is the key stage in the development of Doom's armor. Until this point the armor was largely for show. It barely protects him: in this story Sue is able to knock him out with a blow to the head. But just prior to the story Doom gained access to Ovoid technology, in particular the shrinking ray. At the start of the story he still needs to carry a separate conventional gun, but has experimented with miniaturizing a ray gun to fit in his glove. The glove gun is clearly a prototype: the most it can do is destroy an ash tray! Obviously a miniaturized weapon tends to be very weak. But Doom would be working on ways to increase their power. Following this issue, Doom spends some time in a micro world of advanced technology. Clearly he uses that technology (or insights gained from it) to improve his miniaturized weapons. The next time we see him his armor is full of miniaturized technology.Great story telling
Other points to note:
The invisible gods
This classic issue has two stories of power. Power that is so great that other people cannot comprehend it. They cannot see how it works, or its potential: gods walk among us and they are metaphorically crucified. The first story is about a being who could solve all our problems: he just wants to use his power! He just wants to be our friend! And so we hate and fear him and drive him away. The second story is about the most powerful and intelligent member of the FF: Sue Storm, and how she is treated as some kind of weak burden, some sort of child to be the subject of condescension and protection because we are so kind. Both issues are an indictment of humanity.
This is the story where Reed defends Sue in a way that weakens her, just as he is gradually weakening Ben.
it's also the story where the Impossible man reflects another
side of Reed's character - he only wants to do good, yet can
unwittingly hurt others due to his inability to understand others'
But this story is really about Sue. Note the irony: the strongest
character is treated as the weakest one. in the first story Sue is
the only one who correctly understands the situation (Imply is
like a child). Her compassion saves the entire world (as we shall
see in FF 174) Reed uses the wrong approach, ignoring Impy: if he
had listened to Sue he could have gained the greatest ally they
ever had, but instead drives the being away. Compared with Sue,
the other characters are incompetents, their significance
(compared to Sue saving the world) is as mere footnotes to
history. Yet they have such blindness, such irony! Because in the
second story they act as apologists, as if this weak female needs
defending! Their greatest ever mistake is to mistake Sue's
humility for weakness. Sue's humility is her greatest strength, it
lets her make alliances with the Atlanteans, the Inhumans, the
Poppupians; the only one with greater humility is Alicia, who
saves the world from Galactus (by converting the surfer in FF49,
so Galactus no longer cares to fight). These humble females can do
more than all the arrogant men put together.
Here are the themes again, for one last time:
That's enough with listing every theme every issue: the point
should be clear now: the emphasis on realism (between the incredible exploits) means
individual conflicts naturally grow into epic themes.
Stan Lee hated the Impossible man. The (mostly young at the time)
readers didn't like him at all, so Stan banned his use in any
comic. Years later it took a lot of persuasion for Stan to let him
have Impy used in FF 174. But the Impossible Man is one of my
favorite characters. I love the guy.
The normal reaction to Impy is summed up summed up in this comment:
"To be honest, I have never cared
much for him and consider him to be a joke. Then again, I guess
some humor is needed at times, even in a Super-Hero comic."
"But that's the thing. I have never seen him as a comedy character. I take him seriously. I don't like most of his appearances for that reason, but I love him as a character. I think he must be very hard to write: very much like Lockjaw. I hate almost all of Lockjaw's recent appearances yet he's my all time favorite character for the same reason.
I think they are both examples of why comic readers should not write comics. It's too easy to see Impy as "bat mite" or some other irritating waste of space, and it's too easy to see Lockjaw as the kind of dog you see in a 1970s Hanna Barbera cartoon, just there because kids like dogs. No no no no no! To me (and I admit I am weird) they are like laughing philosophers: they can see the utter absurdity in the world and their only reaction is to laugh or to go in some completely different direction.
Hopefully the first and best Impy story will illustrate:
In FF11 it is the humans who are absurd from Impy's point of view.
Pages 1-6: To him, WE are the comedy characters. From his point of view he was acting perfectly reasonably and being helpful. Far from being a comedy character he came from a world of the greatest dangers, and came to this world to be fair and decent to others, a good will mission of hope and friendship.
Pages 7-9: he has a completely different morality: he has never known a danger he could not avoid, so it never occurs to him that having fun might be morally bad. That's a serious point.
Pages 10-11: he is actually lonely - he's like a kid who wants friends and will do anything for that. Then he's naughty just to get attention. Sue, as usual, got it exactly right, he's just like a little child. Except that without adults to care for him he can't grow up. He's a tragic character. The loneliest being in the galaxy. We later learn that his whole planet was just parts of himself - or he was a part of them - he has no concept of "others" or what their feelings may be. I have often speculated that Reed Richards is autistic, but Impy is far, far worse - he is just unable to relate to others except like a two year old. Yet, like the ultimate autistic savant, he has tremendous abilities that other people don't know how to make use of.
The loneliness of a clown
People say Galactus is the loneliest being of all, but at least Galactus has maturity. Galactus is like a lonely adult he has coping strategies,he can play a role in order to make friends of some kind, with his heralds, with the Watcher, with Death. But Impy is like a lonely child who lacks the skills to cope, and that, to me, is worse.
In the Galactus story in 172-175 we see Imply sacrifice everything for the hope of friendship. he gives up how whole world because years ago one person (Sue) once treated him like he mattered. He smiles inanely all the time and tries to be "fun" because he just wants to be loved.
The "Galactus gets indigestion" story is so out of this world that some people hate it, and Reed and co could only stand in silence unable to process the idea. But again such tragedy - Impy's life is so literally empty - he has no purpose, no ability to relate to others except in a way that irritates them, he can do almost anything yet he can do nothing. In 176 and later he just ends up watching TV all the time and annoying people. He's like a kind growing up delinquent. He's not bad, he's just different. He could be the greatest friend humanity ever had but we can't handle him. All he wants is a friend. Like a child he thinks anybody who treats him with politeness must be the deepest friend, and so he wears out his welcome so quickly.
suppose it's the autism thing taken to the extreme. I was
diagnosed with autism (mildly) and I've always felt like an
outsider, supremely confident in my abilities yet frustrated
that I can't seem to get my life together in the awesome way I
think I should. The Impossible Man speaks to me on a very deep
level. His name says it all. His physical abilities should make
him "The Possible Man" - everything is possible. But his life as
a man, as a conscious, thoughtful, emotional being is
impossible. He can do absolutely anything, but his life can
never work. he can change everything about himself, apart from
himself. He is trapped in the most desperately sad way possible.
His physical abilities mean his mental abilities have atrophied.
He can do everything and because of that he can do nothing.
Impossible Man is the sad clown. He smiles and jokes all the
time because he wants to be popular. Whatever the problem, a
joke or fooling around is the answer because he can't cope with
anything else. He is like a two year old as a clown, always
doing what he things are hilarious things, falling over,
breaking things, making a noise, and he cannot see why
other people do not laugh. So he will laugh some more! He
doesn't have the maturity to cope in any other way. he can't see
that what he does is not funny, and might even be dangerous. To
him he is hilarious. And because he thins so then other people
must think so to, because other people are basically him, or at
least that's how it was on Poppup. If a two year old (or
certainly a one year old) cannot see you he thinks you cannot
see him. he finds something funny then surely everybody must
find it funny.
Impossible Man evolved in a world of immediate threats and
immediate solutions. There is no depth in his brain. There is no
time for analysis on Poppup. In theory he could rewire his brain
by copying others, but nobody takes the time to help him. He
finds life genuinely confusing. He longs for somebody to help
him understand, but everyone just finds him irritating. On his
visits to Earth he becomes aware that there is more to existence
than stimulus-response, stimulus-response. He becomes aware of
lacking something. Perhaps he felt that way on Poppup: for his
brain to survive endless attacks he must have a random element
that embraces the unknown,. he must be curious, but he cannot
handle complexity. He hungers but cannot be satisfied. A human
who cared for him would be the answer, but he alienates every
human he meets. He tries to embrace people but pushes them away.
That must be frustrating, distressing. but he handles
frustration and stress the only way he knows how, by grinning
and being manic, trying some new random thing. it works on
Poppup against the most dangerous creatures in the galaxy, why
can't it solve this new kind of problem? But all he can do is
make his frustration worse. He has tantrums but no mother to
Impy and the humans
called him a philosopher before, but that does not imply high
intelligence. "Philosopher" just means lover of knowledge
("philo - sophos" lover of knowledge). Impy wants to explore, to
see new things all the time. he evolved for ever changing
dangers, so his mind is always looking for what is new. So he
came to Earth.
Now he has a terrifying new experience: people who out-think him. This is a danger he cannot immediately handle. But as a Poppuppian he must be able to handle every danger! In a split second! The existence of danger he cannot handle must be terrifying! But his mind cannot handle this kind of danger, of smarter people. For the first time he is weak and a Poppuppian can never be weak! Weakness is death!
Now his curiosity is focused on fixing this new danger. The danger is his own intellectual weakness. This is different from the dangers he is used to. His mind races to fill that intellectual emptiness inside, so he can be safe. Every second counts where he comes from! Art first he does what he does best - goes wild and crazy. But changing shape and learning new things does not work this time. He can do anything, he is acutely aware of his surroundings, yet he cannot understand and he cannot fix this problem: all he can do is be afraid of it, and grin manically, and try something even more random! Like a chimpanzee he grins because he is scared. He swings and screams and throws toys around because he wants to show how strong he is, so nobody will hurt him. He acts nonchalant so the beings around him will not suspect. He has learned that they like it when he does less.
later appearances Impy likes copying famous people. If he looks
like them maybe he will think like them too? But it doesn't
work. And this just reinforces his need to be fun. Other people
are a threat to him in a way he cannot handle, so "being fun
will make them like me, right?"
is a philosopher who sees but cannot understand. Worse, his
great abilities make him an outcast. The greatest tragedy is the
philosopher who is not smart enough to fit in.
People often tell me I'm super intelligent (not here - you know me too well and have seen my garbled attempts to create anything!) I have spent my life studying economics and philosophy at the most abstract and have some very radical ideas on a number of topics. Like the impossible man I can see that anything is possible, I can see spectacular potential everywhere I look, I see this world as a paradise of infinite wonders ready for the plucking. Yet I am not actually super intelligent, my mind works in a different way. Sure, I can see things other people cannot, but I also cannot see what they can see. I find social situations very difficult, I find communication very difficult, I find it hard to keep anything but the simplest job, and so on. There is saying that sums up autism: "wrong planet." The main autism message board is called "wrong planet." We feel that we are trapped on the wrong planet.
That is the Impossible Man in a nutshell. His own planet is lonely and pointless - just a billion extensions of himself trying to find something to do that has any meaning, but with no challenges how can anything have meaning? So he comes top this world as a good will gesture, he wants everything to be nice and fun, he wants to play with friends, but he basically has the mind of a two year old (to us) and two year old are such hard work. So sooner or later he wanders off, alone again, Still smiling in naive hope because he doesn't now what else to do. They call two year olds "the terrible twos" because it's an age of tantrums, where they are old enough to cause all kinds of trouble but not old enough to cope and control themselves. They have no idea of boundaries,and find it very difficult to imagine how others think. Impy is like that. In real life I think he would drive me crazy like he drives everybody else crazy, and I don't think I would have the slightest hope of communicating with him, but he's amazing and tragic and inspiring and innocent I love the guy.
this probably sounds tremendously self pitying of me. yes, I was
pretty miserable for several decades but I now have the most
wonderful girlfriend in the world and we adore each other.
That's what Impy needs, somebody who loves him despite
everything. Not just an "impossible woman" who he created an
extension of himself (how narcissistic and empty is that!) He
just needs somebody to love him unconditionally and he will do
anything in return.
I think a lot of desperately lonely people can relate."
Other points to note
With Reed now dominant (his greatest confidence arrives with issue 13), Sue's independence is in decline, particularly after Reed's sexism in issue 11. In future issues Sue will try things Reed's way. She will become slightly infantalized like the others, taking on a subservient role and waiting for Reed to micromanage. She gives him his chance. But by Act 4 we will see that Reed's approach just does not work in the long term, and Sue will once again assert her independence.
Ben and power
Here Ben is at his finest, battling the Hulk for the first of many times. Ben still defies Reed sometimes, e.g. by smashing an uncooperative elevator. It seems clear in this issue that later Marvel editors are correct: Ben and the Hulk have equal strength except for the Hulk's slightly greater size. But Reed treats Ben and the others like children, e.g. Reed leaves the other three outside while he discusses business, and treats Ben like an idiot when Ben enters too early. Reed often plays the "you are a fool" card Reed's narrow intelligence is the only area where he is Ben's superior. Lacking confidence, Ben will not defeat old green skin (or gray skin) until he regains his confidence at the end of Act 5. (At that time Ben has a power boost, but that only affects his minimum power: his maximum power was always Hulk-level).
This issue is saturated by Cold War zeitgeist: the team help the troops, uncover a communist plot, and are rewarded with a military honor guard!
As the excellent "wait-what" podcast pointed out, this is an odd, directionless story. There is no strong villain, no strong fight, but lots of time spent preparing and lost in tunnels. Why?
This unintentionally reflects zeitgeist, the spirit of the age: any
story about commie spies is going to be unsatisfying because the concept
of commie spies was unsatisfying. it made no sense. America was so
suspicious of communists that such an advanced spy network was
impossible. So the story, where they do not have a clear idea of who the
Hulk is or what he can do, reflects how America felt abut Russia: what
doe it want? What might it do? But the moment you see it, it might
destroy you, as the Hulk did with the spy camera!
Sue: the most powerful member
This issue is the perfect answer to the previous issue's interest in whether Sue pulls her weight. How could Sue possibly defeat the Hulk? She modestly suggested that she could be of no help. Then it was Sue who noticed that Dr. Banner and Rock were convinced it was not the Hulk, which led the others to consider that possibly the Hulk might be innocent. Then it was Sue who spotted the Ray that alerted them to the existence of the Wrecker. And it was Sue who stopped the Wrecker's controller, Karl Kort.
One footnote to this: Sue appears to go invisible at fear of a
picture of the Hulk. Clearly that is absurd, as she fought the
Mole Man's hordes and Dr Doom with no problem. She hesitates to
answer ("the-- the sight of that monster"). It sounds like this
was the first excuse she could come up with. What is really going
on here? What could she be thinking that would cause her to be
distracted (and thus become invisible) but she could not tell
Reed? The meeting was dull, the lights were down, so she was
probably day-dreaming. What was she thinking of? Look at the
Whatever the topic, Sue could not tell Reed, so had to think of a quick excuse. "I was scared!" Yes, he'll' buy that. Or maybe she was testing Reed - "does he really think I'm such a coward?" And he believed it.
The 1950s were run by men with receding hair lines. but the 1960s belonged to young men with long hair! This is reflected in the comics. All the early opponents had receding hair or no hair at all, except Namor and the Hulk, who were the epitome of health. (The Miracle Man appeared to have good hair, but he was old, and the master of illusion, so I highly doubt it. The angry police commissioner in the same issue was definitely balding.) We are not strictly told that Doom is bald, but a fiery explosion ripped past his face, which would normally burn off his hair: he certainly looks like he has either very thin hair or perhaps just scar tissue.
The first villain with plenty of hair was the Mad Thinker, who represented computers and the future. By the end of the 1960s a full head of hair was the norm.
The move from balding to full hair reflects Stan Lee's life. Were the early bald villains a sign of his own distress at his hair loss? Of course, the designs were by Jack Kirby, who always had great hair. Which makes you think. Kirby drew heroes with good hair and villains as balding authority figures (or in the case of Impy, figures of fun). What was Kirby unconsciously trying to say? But never fear: by the late 1960s Stan was looking youthful again.
(Stan photos are mainly from the excellent collection at the "MAST" blog, 9emeart.fr)
Other points to note
The Marvel Universe
The Hulk-Thing battle was the first ever modern Marvel cross-over, establishing the shared universe.
This issue was on sale in the same month as the final issue (6) of the original Hulk run. Why did the Hulk fail? Realism was the key to Marvel's success, yet the first Hulk series included stories that contradicted the reader's experience of the real world, such as global attacks by the Metal Master and Toad Men. Readers did not connect with these stories. The later series had smaller stories that the reader could believe were really "out there somewhere" and the new Hulk was a hit.
Commie membership card?
Some have criticized the plot point that Rick found a communist membership card in the bad guy's wallet. Except that he didn't. Rick Jones at the time was involved with teenage radio hams. He collated information from across the nation. He was in a position to recognize a "communist front organization" that even the FBI might not spot. This detail is about Rick's data mining, not about Karl Kort being a fool.
The issue was written around the time of Kennedy’s famous
“we choose the moon” speech. The Fantastic Four reflects that
powerful meme: the nation is thinking of the moon, so that's where
the Fantastic Four must be that month. The Red Ghost and
Super-Apes are of course a blatant example of the zeitgeist of the
time: early space flights were tested with animals like dogs and
chimpanzees. Anti-communist scare stories implied that commies
were bogeymen who could go anywhere, like ghosts. Sue compares the
apes to the innocent Russian citizens, forced to serve their
masters. Note that the story deliberately wants sympathy for the
Russians - human henchmen would have gained no sympathy. The story
ends with Reed moralizing about freedom (ironically while he
dominates the others, but at least he's better than his enemies.)
The use of apes reflects the cultural
The Watcher also reflects another zeitgeist: America's dilemma.
The American founding fathers were isolationist, preferring to
watch the old world from a distance (just as the Watcher observes
from the moon) and not get involved. But when wars come to the
western word (like communism coming to Cuba: in this case,
communism coming to the moon), what should they do? Passively
watch or interfere and risk making it worse?
“They are like the communist masses, innocently enslaved by their evil leaders.” "Wow!
That was a significant moment in this story. Once again going back to
1960’s international politics, I remember an overwhelming agreement that
ALL Commies are BAD. In grade school, as our thoughts would sometimes
wander to the poor little Russian children in their cold, barren
schoolrooms, reading their propagandist textbooks, we were encouraged to
feel sorry for these children as victims of their own society. Once
they got past a certain age, though (we were taught), the menace of
Communism would take root in their souls, and no salvation would be
possible. So I thought it was pretty big of Stan to separate for his
young readers the reality of the communist people from the ideology of
the communist party." - Crissy
Sue saves them yet again
Although this issue is Reed's triumph, once again we see how Sue's peaceful methods are superior. Her empathy for the apes saves herself, allowing her to save the others, and the now sympathetic apes later caused the Red Ghost's defeat. This was the Watcher's great test for mankind, so it is not too much to say that whereas Reed was focused on his own glory, Sue saved the world. Note that the boys' methods (rush in first, think later) would have led to their deaths. And again note Sue's bravery - either the apes or the ray gun might have killed her.
For the realism of a moon shot in 1963, see the discussion of the FF's origin. In short, this was a one-off, only possible because of a one-off rocket fuel discovery and astronauts with unique abilities. It was not the "giant leap for mankind" of 1969. This was like the occasional lucky visit to America before Columbus. Some critics argue why Reed didn't just use the captured Skrull craft or Planet X's UFO. Because Reed says the whole point is to test a fuel that NASA might be able to use. Also, Reed appears to have already cannibalized the Skrull craft for the "Fantasti-car." As for the UFO, it appears to have been out of action until years later when Ben was kidnapped by the Skrulls (though it does appear in issue 11). There could be many reasons for this: it was already cannibalized for parts, or adjusting it was too dangerous, or it had some kind of security device and was only primed for a one way trip, etc.
A story of perspective
This issue is criticized on FFPlaza as having a weak fourth part. This is true if we expect comics to be just costumed battles. But as a morality tale this is superb: we see that though en enemy may appear fearsome, like the apes they are just ordinary people, with their own lack of freedom, and all they want is the same things we do, like food. The story ends with a reminder that no matter how powerful we are, somebody will be more powerful than us. The story is an appeal to be simple and human, and is simple contrasts are made clearer by setting it on the moon.
Reed refers to the meteorite that exploded above Siberia: the famous Tunguska event.
"The Tunguska event was a large
explosion, caused by an asteroid or comet, which occurred near the
Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia, at
about 07:14 (00:14 UT) on June 30 1908. It
is classified as an impact event even though the object is believed to
have burst in the air rather than hit the surface. It is the largest
impact event on or near Earth in recorded history." (Wikipedia)
Trees were flattened for miles around.
Where does the explosive energy come from? "Meteoroids
enter Earth's atmosphere from outer space every day, traveling at a
speed of at least 11 kilometers per second (6.8 mi/s). The heat
generated by compression of air in front of the body (ram pressure) as
it travels through the atmosphere is immense and most asteroids burn up
or explode before they reach the ground." (Wikipedia)
The simplest explanation for Reed's discovery is that this enormous
pressure could become trapped within the asteroid itself: so releasing
it a little bit at a time would be like releasing a nuclear bomb a bit
at a time, which would be enough to assist a space craft. This probably
explains the ship design: a spherical payload for maximum protection in
case of explosion, and a thin neck for maximum distance from the
How can the heat energy be contained within an asteroid? Through extreme compression when the asteroid was created.
“Hypervelocity impacts on meteorite
parent bodies cause short pulses of very high pressures and locally
high temperatures that melt and transform meteoritic materials into the
same high-pressure phases that make up the deep Earth,” [...] By looking
within shocked meteorites, scientists have been able to observe and
categorize a few different deep-Earth minerals. But something from
within Earth is obviously preferable. Earlier this year, for instance,
scientists found the first naturally occurring sample of ringwoodite,
which was trapped inside a diamond that had been expelled in Brazil.
Ringwoodite is a mineral that is prevalent in the “transition zone”
between the upper and lower mantles. Within that sample, scientists
found trapped water, a finding that suggests there is a subterranean
ocean that may hold more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined." (source)
The Fantastic Four is a great entry point into real world science.
Other points to note
Here Reed is living the dream. Note how at his moment of triumph
Reed undermines Ben. The one intellectual area where Reed must
admit Ben is better is in piloting (e.g. in issue 11). So What
does Reed do? He designs a ship that does not need Ben. He seems
to want Ben to be worthless. It is as though Reed, like Doom,
likes to see Ben as just brainless muscle.
As Reed's life journey goes ever upwards, Ben's is its mirror, sliding farther and farther down to despair
The first annual is about equality: it contrasts Reed's methods and Sue's methods. Reed sees no choice but violence, but Sue has a better way.
Like Hamlet, Reed normally analyzes everything carefully, but sometimes acts too quickly. Here Reed almost causes World War Three by not listening to the bearded man's complaints (he is Namor in disguise). Sue's method, to take the other person's views seriously, would have prevented the war. It is true that Reed's war invention finally works, but it does not end the war, it just lengthens it or another battle, another day. Only Sue can end the conflict between the two species, human and merman, because only Sue understands that the issue is much bigger than Reed's narrow focus. It is not about conquest, it is about pride. Sue understands that. Reed does not. Where the big picture is concerned, Sue is usually smarter than Reed.
Meanwhile Reed continues to subtly humiliate Ben: The Torch
starts a fight and Ben is supposed to just take the abuse. (Johnny
grew out of that immature stage by Act 3, and it is a sign of the
end of continuity that Johnny reverts to being a juvenile in the
Franklinverse.) Ben is then treated like a naughty child for
ruining some clothes. In reality Sue is partly at fault for not
protecting them: the Baxter building would always be a dangerous
place, and events like this lead Reed to gradually improve
The great power of comics is their unlimited imagination. Not
limited by words or pictures or budget. Some of their crazy ideas
turn out later to be plausible, or at least exaggerated versions of the truth. Perhaps this
story could also contain a grain of truth: according to Elaine Morgan's
aquatic ape hypothesis,
some of our ancestors did return to live in
the water, just as Namor said. The only mammals without thick fur
are those whose ancestors spent time in the water, and human
babies still have the instinct to hold their breath when submerged.
(image by 'MasterFinally' on Wikimedia)
aquatic apes stayed there and developed gills is still pure speculation. :)
Darius singles out FF annual 1 as "stupid" because of a
scene where Reed is stretched out like spaghetti, then squashed
into a cone shape by Namor. This illustrates a fundamental question: are super powers the point of super
heroes? Many people would say yes. Others, including me,
say no. Super powers are merely a
McGuffin, an excuse to allow a more interesting story. To illustrate, let's
examine Darius' claim in detail:
'Earlier in the same issue, in a story in which Namor the Sub-Mariner battles the team, a panel showing Namor punching the shape-changing Mr. Fantastic, sending his upper body flying like taffy, is followed by a panel showing Namor with a tube of maybe two feet across and maybe four feet deep. A caption tells us that “seizing the pliable form of Reed Richards, Namor fashions a crude candle-snuffer out of his stunned body!” How the hell did this happen? You’d think this would be a complex maneuver — to roll back the 60-foot-long form of a man and mold it into a perfect tube. But in Silver Age Marvel, it happens between panels. This is the equivalent in film of a fight scene in which someone pushes someone else off a ledge, then is seen holding that person’s body and using it as a battering ram — with a voice over that says “but he catches the stunned form of his opponent, then uses him as a battering ram.” It’s not only awkward. It’s stupid. And bad.'
First let's dismiss the "between panels" complaint. For some people, the super powers are the heart of the story. Therefore to skip over a super feat is unforgivable. But in the Fantastic Four, super powers are merely a way to tell a bigger story. This is the story of enormous egos: Namor rules more than half the Earth's surface, and is known for his ego. As for Mr Fantastic, the clue to his ego is in the name, "Mr Fantastic." The significance of this sequence is not in the mechanism of the act, but that one man humiliated the other.
As for the other criticism, the "complex
maneuver" - the pictures suggest otherwise. When hit, Reed
flattens out and resembles a stretched spring. He knew he was
going to be hit, he knew he would likely be disoriented, so he no
doubt tightened his form like a flattened spring, so he would
immediately snap back, like a spring. Namor then saw the coiled
form and immediately thought of a candle snuffer. Even if he had
to deal with a floppy form (which seems unlikely) here is a guy
who routinely handles giant eels, so he's in his element. But the
point is that how he did it does not matter. This is not a story
about the mechanics of super powers, it's a story about one man
humiliating another, and super powers let us illustrate the
concept more efficiently.
This little sequence matters because it's a theme repeated in
almost every issue. If we focus on the powers we miss the point.
They are just a way to emphasize the story. This is not a story
about super powers, it's a story about people.
This issue is notable for the worst example of childish behavior from
Ben (at the start). What we are seeing is the peak moment in Ben's
process of metanoia, or changing of the mind on a deep, painful
psychological level. Metanoia is a kind of nervous breakdown, except the
person is till able to function at some level. But the underlying
depression and pain are the same.
Metanoia (from the Greek "changing one's mind") describes a process of fundamental change in the human personality. William James used the term metanoia to refer to a fundamental and stable change in an individual's life-orientation. Carl Jung developed the usage to indicate a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form - a form of self healing often associated with the mid-life crisis and psychotic breakdown, which can be viewed as a potentially productive process. Jung considered that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as an existential crisis which might be an attempt at self-reparation: in such instances metanoia could represent a shift in the balance of the personality away from the persona towards the shadow and the self. Psychologist David Cooper considered that 'metanoia means change from the depths of oneself upwards into the superficies of one's social appearance' – a process that in the second of its three stages 'generates the 'signs' of depression and mourning'. The therapeutic community movement used the concept to support people whilst they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening a person's existing character defenses and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict. In Transactional analysis, metanoia is used to describe the experience of abandoning an old scripted self or false self for a more open one: a process which may be marked by a mixture of intensity, despair, self-surrender, and an encounter with the inner void. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)
Symbolism: Ben's rocky skin
Rocky orange monsters reflect bedrock (see the commentary to issue 1 and all the monster comics of that month.) Ben's skin can be seen as a symbol of bedrock, whereas Reed is a symbol of change. Ben's old fashioned traditionalism is like the average older American facing the changes of the 1960s. All the old certainties were under attack: religion, the righteousness of war, old ways of life, etc. Reed Richards represents the rise of science and flexible thinking. Johnny represents the cockiness of youth, now challenging the older generation as never before. Many older people felt under attack, they lost their old status in society, and often lost their jobs to younger less experienced people. These changes were painful.
Symbolism: how Ben's rocky skin changed
Ben's metanoia covers acts 1 and 2. His changing inner self is reflected by his changing outer self: at first he was an almost shapeless pile of Earth...
..and gradually as he worked through his problems his skin took a
more definite form. His appearance settled in hard plates, his armor
against the outside world; while he had the general look of a harmless
"orange teddy bear" as some Marvel writers later called him,
The stages of Ben's metanoia