Fantastic Friday: That’s impossible, man

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Superman has Mr. Mxyzptlk, Batman has Bat-Mite, and, in issue Fantastic Four #11, the FF meet their version, the Impossible Man.

Our story begins in the “hobo jungles” where an alien appears out of nowhere, saying he’s from the planet Poppup. He wants their food, but the hobos will only give him food in exchange for money. (“We’re legitimate hobos,” one of them says.)

With a “pop” sound effect, the alien transforms himself into a jet, and flies to the nearest bank, where he turns into a tiny insect to crawl under the vault door. He helps himself to the cash, and then turns himself hard as steel to deflect the guards’ bullets.

The Fantastic Four are called in to investigate. They find the alien stuffing his face at a fancy restaurant, much to the annoyance of the other customers. (“He’s pretty durn hungry,” Ben says.) Reed nicknames the alien Impossible Man, and I will now nickname him Impy. Impy says there are so many natural disasters on his homeworld that evolution has allowed his people to change form at will to protect themselves. (Have fun with that one, creationists.) Why did Impy come to Earth? What is his master plan? He doesn’t have one – he’s on vacation!

A fight breaks out. Impy grows spikes to puncture the Thing’s rocklike hide, he turns into a bag full of water to douse Johnny’s flame, and he transforms into a dart to escape Reed’s stretching hands. Impy causes more trouble out in the street, where he turns into a monster to steal a car. He takes to the sky and is chased by Johnny, and when the National Guard shows up, he turns into a bomb and threatens to blow up the city, only to have Reed throw him up into the sky at the last minute. Back on the ground, Impy recovers and says Earth is like one big party, and he plans to stay forever. That’s when Reed comes up with a plan – ignore Impy, and he’ll go away. Word spreads around the world quickly, and, in true silver age comics fashion, it actually works. People everywhere ignore Impy’s antics, and Impy leaves the Earth due to pure boredom.

This issue also features a backup story, in which beleaguered mailman Willy Lumpkin shows up with a bag full of fan mail. Willy wants to join the group, hoping his ability to wiggle his ears can grant him membership. Sorry, Willy, but maybe you can try Prof. Xavier’s school. They accept all kinds of weirdoes. As the FF reads all the letters, we get what is basically a FAQ for the series so far. The origin story is retold, and one-panel recreations of fights against the Skrulls in issue 2 and Dr. Doom in issue 4. We learn a little more about Ben and Reed’s friendship, establishing that they served together in World War II. Some of the letters say Sue contributes nothing to the group, and the others disagree, reminding her (and readers) of all the times she’s rescued them. They then surprise her with a birthday cake. And here she thought they’d forgotten.

Unstable Molecule: Reed saves the day by his using his brains, again. When there’s a baddie too powerful to fight, Reed instead finds another way.

Fade Out: Impy refuses to fight Sue, on the grounds that she’s a girl. He even turns himself into a bunch of flowers so he accidentally hurt her. In the backup story, several pages are spent making the argument that she’s a valuable member of the group.

Clobberin’ Time: In the backup story, Ben gets another prank gift from the Yancy Street Gang (a boxing glove on a spring right into his face). He temporarily turns human again for a few minutes, as another of Reed’s temporary cures kicks in.

Flame On: Johnny is the only one who puts up a real fight against Impy, forcing him to the ground by creating a hypnotic pattern of flame in the sky. Unless, of course, Impy was just faking…

Trivia Time: Although generally considered one of the biggies in the FF’s rogue’s gallery, the Impossible Man won’t be seen again until issue #176. Even after his return, he’s normally depicted in comedic stories, as a mischief-maker as opposed to a full-on villain.

This is also the first appearance of mailman Willy Lumpkin, a favorite comic relief character. He’s gone on to have a long history in Marvel Comics, meeting a wide range of Marvel heroes and villains. He even dated Spider-Man’s Aunt May for a while.

Fantastic or Frightful: According to oh-so-reliable internet rumors, this was not a high-selling issue. The kiddie-friendly tale with the Impossible Man is probably to blame. It’s OK to have a mostly comedic issue, it’s just that this one is too thin, lacking the “high adventure” feel of the best Fantastic Four tales.

Next week: Hulk smash!

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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