FANTASTIC FOUR #20 [November, 1963] was the first Marvel comic I bought after reading the life-changing FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1. My memory fails me as to why my bike rides to the drug store where I bought comic books were initially so infrequent after my family's vacation trip to Oneonta, New York.
It's possible that our side visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in nearby Cooperstown rekindled my interest in collecting baseball cards for a few weeks. There may also have been several day-trips between the New York vacation and the start of the new school year. I may have been too broke to buy comic books after spending so much on them during the Oneonta excursion. Whatever the reason, it was a while before I stood before a magazine rack...or, rather, knelt before a magazine rack since the comics were displayed on the lower shelves...to indulge my new passion.
I bought two Marvels that day: FANTASTIC FOUR #20 and STRANGE TALES #114. Distribution being somewhat spotty and my trips to the drug store being somewhat sporadic, my next issues of FF would be #23 and #25, while my next of STRANGE TALES would be #116. I never missed an issue of either title after that.
THE GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org] credits the cover of FF #20 to Jack Kirby (pencils) and George Roussos (inks), which certainly looks correct to me. Inside, Dick Ayers inked Kirby on "The Mysterious Molecule Man!" The 22-page thriller was written by editor Stan Lee, though, as was their practice, Kirby was probably the tale's uncredited co-plotter.
I rely on my perhaps-inexact memories when writing about these old comics because there are truths to be found in even such flawed recollections. However, with the MARVEL MASTERWORKS reprinting of the issue close at hand, I couldn't resist re-reading the Molecule Man's exciting debut.
Here there be spoilers, my friends.
Reed Richards and crew are examining a meteor when a glowing ball of energy appears on the street below. They attack the ball, only to learn that it's actually a portal to the Watcher's current headquarters. He's there to warn them about the disgruntled atomic laboratory worker who has been transformed into the deadly Molecule Man. They return to Earth to find that their own headquarters, the Baxter Building, is floating above the city.
The Molecule Man is using it to announce his imminent conquest of the world. The Four attack; he kicks their butts all the way to Yancy Street where they are rescued by one of Ben Grimm's childhood adversaries. At the studio of blind sculptor Alicia Masters, Ben's girlfriend, they figure out their new foe's power doesn't work on organic matter.
Alicia covers the Four with plaster, then summons the Molecule Man to view the "statues" of his enemies. He attempts to reshape what he thinks are inorganic sculptures. The feedback knocks him on his behind. The Watcher appears, takes the Molecule Man prisoner sans due process, and strokes the Four's egos by telling them the whole planet should be proud of them.
Fond memories mix with current reflections. I got a kick out of Ben ripping up the sidewalk to grab and use a water main against the glowing energy. You just didn't see property damage that cool and down-to-earth in DC's super-hero comics.
Back then, I didn't think it strange that the equivalent of a custodian was working on an atomic device in the middle of a city, or that he would then get fired by an executive who didn't know his name. Played today, the scene would probably involve an obsequious mid-management type trying to get the Molecule Man to accept some sort of out-of-court settlement.
Giant skyscrapers floating above a city were a fairly common sight in Superman comic books, but Kirby made it look frightening. DC coddled its readers; Marvel didn't.
Back then, it never occurred to me that Reed took one heck of a gamble with that "power feedback" maneuver. What if the Molecule Man's power simply didn't work on the "statues" and he then turned the air in their lungs to lead?
The Watcher. I thought he was a wuss from day one. He keeps everyone on Earth under surveillance. He lets the Fantastic Four take all the risks in service of his personal agenda. He violates the Molecule Man's constitutional rights. Back then, I just didn't care for the character. Today, I'm amazed he's not a member of the Bush administration.
My comics buying habits and trips to the drug store became a lot more regular after I started reading Marvels. Within a short six months, I would be buying all their super-hero titles, adding Sgt. Fury and the western titles before the end of 1964. Between then and when I moved to New York City to work for Marvel in 1972, I never missed an issue of any of those titles.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with a look at STRANGE TALES #114 and more.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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