Fantastic Friday: Let’s everybody brain-swap

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We reach the double digits in issue 10, so it’s appropriate that it’s a tale about brain switching.

The issue begins with Reed taking a picture of Sue with his “electronic x-ray camera with radioactive film.” Is that safe? He manages to get a picture of her while she’s invisible. I immediately thought, “Ah, this is something that’s going to come into play later in the story.” Guess what? It doesn’t.

Somewhere else in the city, Ben fires the big “4” flare in the sky. This kicks off the customary “our heroes show off their powers for the first few pages” thing. To begin, Reed, Sue and Johnny are locked inside the lab. There’s no explanation why or how this happened, but Reed stretched through the door and Johnny uses his heat on the lock. Out on the street, the three of them then use their powers to escape from crowds of admirers. They find Ben at Alicia’s apartment. There’s no crisis, he just wanted to show them some of Alicia’s new sculptures. Well, that was a whole lot of nothing happening.

Then we get the issue’s most famous scene. Cut to the Marvel Comics office (on Madison Avenue, the text specifies) where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby go all meta, saying they can’t come up with new villains for upcoming Fantastic Four comics. Randomly, Doctor Doom walks through the door. He insists that Stan and Jack arrange a meeting with Reed to talk about future issues, going so far as to take off his mask and frighten the two Marvel staffers with his scarred face.

Reed falls for Doom’s trick and goes to the Marvel offices, where Doom knocks him out with some gas. Reed wakes up in Doom’s “secret laboratory.” Doom explains that after being flung into space in issue #6, he was found by peaceful alien “Ovoids” who live forever by transferring their minds into younger bodies when they get old. Armed with this new knowledge, Doom returned to Earth with a new plan. He brain-switches with Reed, so now Doom’s mind is in Reed’s body and Reed’s mind is in Doom’s body.

Sue, Ben, and Johnny show up for the rescue, and Doom-in-Reed’s-body keeps up the ruse, encouraging the other to capture Reed-in-Doom’s-body. They lock Reed-in-Doom’s-body in a cage beneath the lab, with Doom-in-Reed’s-body explaining that he’ll have plenty of air. This is a lie, though, as the oxygen containers only have a few hours in them. Back at headquarters, Doom-in-Reed’s-body announces his new invention, a shrink ray. He convinces the other three that by shrinking and then enlarging them, their powers will increase by huge amounts. Ben, Sue and Johnny don’t make themselves look very bright by believing in this.

Reed-in-Doom’s-body rigs the oxygen canisters to explode, providing an escape from his cage. For reasons unexplained, he goes to Alicia’s apartment. Sue is also there, invisible, and she knocks out Reed-in-Doom’s-body. The rest of the team show up, and both Alicia and Ben can tell there’s something “off” about Reed-in-Doom’s-body. Back at headquarters, Reed-in-Doom’s-body continues to plea his case, while Doom-in-Reed’s-body hurries to finish work on the shrink ray. While working on the shrink ray, there’s an odd bit of business where a bunch of tiny animals get loose in the building, and our heroes have to round them up.

Reed, Ben and Johnny finally get a clue. Get this: Johnny uses his power to heat up air particles around them, to create the illusion that a stick of dynamite from a nearby construction site appears in the room. Wha-huh? I guess Stan was up against a tight deadline and needed an ending, and quick. Reed-in-Doom’s-body jumps onto the dynamite to protect everyone else, while Doom-in-Reed’s-body flees like a coward, and then confirms the mind-switch for everyone else. The shock of being discovered reverts Doom back into his own body and Reed back into his.

A fight breaks out, with Doom revealing that his metal gauntlets contain a “sub-miniature transistor-powered atomic blast gun.” Well, why not? He fires wildly, hitting the shrink ray, which goes haywire and strikes him back. Doom shrinks away into nothingness, and we’re supposed to believe we’ll never, ever see him again.

Unstable Molecule: Reed’s genius helps him escape from Doom’s cage, while Doom-in-Reed’s-body uses Reed’s powers to easily defeat Doom-in-Reed’s-body.

Fade Out: While hiding out at Alicia’s place, Sue single-handedly knocks out Reed-in-Doom’s-body. Tough girl!

Clobberin’ Time: Ben does very little in this issue. He can somehow tell that Doom isn’t Doom, and he later prevents Doom-in-Reed’s-body from escaping.

Flame On: Johnny’s stunt of creating a “mirage” by manipulating air particles with his heat is a typically crazy bit of silver age weirdness. It’s another case of “If he can do this, why doesn’t he do it all the time?”

Trivia Time: This is not the last time Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, not to mention other Marvel staffers, would cameo in their own comics. In this issue, they keep their faces obscured, just like Doom does when Doom unmasks. In later cameos, they show their (illustrated) faces.

The Ovoids, the aliens who rescue Doom, later appeared in a She-Hulk arc, among others. They will be most well-known (if at all) for their role in the death of Air-Master, a herald of Galactus. This was the Ovoids’ way of driving off Galactus. Not bad for a bunch of little brainy guys.

Doom’s mind-switching powers show up rarely, but they are used again, most notably a slow-burn, years-long plot twist during John Byrne’s run on the book years later.

Fantastic or Frightful: There’s lot of goofiness in this issue, but a lot of it is intentional. If I’m ever fortunate enough to visit the Marvel offices, I’m going to ask to see the spot where Doctor Doom met Stan and Jack.

Like to read? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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